MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

We have discussed this notorious problem before: numerous charities (such as one that treats HIV and malaria with homeopathy in Botswana, or the one claiming that homeopathy can reverse cancer) are a clear danger to public health. I have previously chosen the example of ‘YES TO LIFE’ and explained that they promote unproven and disproven alternative therapies as cures for cancer (and if you want to get really sickened, look who act as their supporters and advisors). It is clear to me that such behaviour can hasten the death of many vulnerable patients.

Yet, many such charities get tax and reputational benefits by being registered charities in the UK. The question is CAN THIS SITUATION BE JUSTIFIED?

Currently, the UK Charity commission want to answer it. Specifically, they are asking you the following question:

  • Question 1: What level and nature of evidence should the Commission require to establish the beneficial impact of CAM therapies?
  • Question 2: Can the benefit of the use or promotion of CAM therapies be established by general acceptance or recognition, without the need for further evidence of beneficial impact? If so, what level of recognition, and by whom, should the Commission consider as evidence?
  • Question 3: How should the Commission consider conflicting or inconsistent evidence of beneficial impact regarding CAM therapies?
  • Question 4: How, if at all, should the Commission’s approach be different in respect of CAM organisations which only use or promote therapies which are complementary, rather than alternative, to conventional treatments?
  • Question 5: Is it appropriate to require a lesser degree of evidence of beneficial impact for CAM therapies which are claimed to relieve symptoms rather than to cure or diagnose conditions?
  • Question 6: Do you have any other comments about the Commission’s approach to registering CAM organisations as charities?

I am sure that most readers of this blog have something to say about these questions. So, please carefully study the full document, go on the commission’s website, and email your response to: legalcharitablestatus@charitycommission.gsi.gov.uk . Don’t delay it; do it now!

THANK YOU!

8 Responses to Is the promotion of dubious therapies a charitable activity? The Charity Commission wants to know

  • Only one comment so far? I would have thought that quite quite a lot of the people who read this blog would have been interested in replying to the consultation. I certainly shall be doing so.

  • Here are my answers to the Charity Commission’s questions
    Q1 The evidence should be of the same level and nature as for any other medical intervention, properly conducted randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and systematic reviews (SRs). The most reliable SRs are those conducted following Cochrane Collaboration (CC) guidelines. The CC SRs of CAM therapies either show no effect or very slight effects. To establish the beneficial effects of CAM therapies, consistent evidence of more than slight benefit is needed. Even the “best” evidence cited by The Faculty of Homoeopathy fails to do this.
    Q2 This is an unbelievable proposition. Acceptance and recognition is not evidence. This is not a basis for committing taxpayers’ money.
    Q3 The “gold standard” is a properly conducted systematic review of RCTs. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Conflicting or inconsistent evidence = lack of evidence.
    Q4 The approach of the Commission should be the same for both – the question is one of demonstrable benefit. This is a different question than that which faces patients. If they use complementary medicine alongside conventional treatments, no harm will probably be done; if an alternative treatment is used instead of conventional treatment, harm may well be done.
    Q5 As in Q4, the Commission’s approach should be the same. Taxpayers’ money should not be used to subsidise CAM merely because of weak evidence of benefit as regards symptoms. There be less potential for harm but that is a poor justification for charitable status.
    Q6 This goes for all registered charities: the intentions of those operating CAM-promoting bodies are not relevant to charitable status. You may be convinced of the benefit of your treatment but, to earn state support in the form of charitable status, more than a little evidence must be required.

  • When will people stop lumping complementary therapies such as massage into the same pot as alternative medicine like homeopathy?

    They are not the same.

    Also many Hospices – which are charities – provide support such as massage to palliative patients. Would this be considered suitable expenditure of taxpayers money? Or should such charities be required to exclude any such support in order to retain charitable stutus?

    • they lump these two together because there is no clear dividing line. homeopathy, for instance, can be used in the alternative as well as the complementary way. so can most other therapies. the much better way to differentiate is not by type of therapy but by type of usage.

    • It is a matter of evidence. If there is evidence that massage is helpful, then fine. Also a matter of what practitioners claim. A masseur doesn’t usually claim anything dramatic, just muscle relaxation and perhaps some pain relief. So I wouldn’t think of `lumping’ massage into the same category as homeopathy, and it isn’t mentioned in this blog post or in any other comments. I have complained about a lot of CAM charities but not about any with massage as their core offering.

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