MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

My friend and colleague Willem Betz has died on 8 June 2019. He was a physician and professor emeritus at the Belgian university Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Willem was a leading sceptic and a founding member of the Belgian sceptic organization SKEPP.

After having worked 20 years as a general practitioner, he made a career change and became a teacher of general practice and a researcher. As a clinician, he received training in several alternative therapies and practiced them of a short while. Soon, he started questioning the validity of these methods and thus became a dedicated sceptic. He served SKEPP as vice-president and as president and became a fellow of the Committee for Scientific Inquiry.

His last paper was published less than a year ago. Here is its abstract:

Conventional treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS) is often disappointing. As a result, some of these patients seek salvation in traditional and complementary medicine (T&CM). The aim of this study is to describe how many patients with MS use T&CM and what their motives and expectations are in doing so. Methods. Ninety-nine patients with diagnosed MS, attending the service of ambulatory revalidation of the National Clinic for Multiple Sclerosis in Melsbroek (Belgium) were included in February 2004 in this retrospective study. All patients had MS resulting in motoric or psychosocial symptoms. The disability was not quantified for this study. Participants were interviewed by means of a structured questionnaire on their current treatment of MS including T&CM. Results. In total 44% of the participants had experiences with T&CM. The most frequently used T&CM were homeopathy and acupuncture. Participants using conventional treatment were more satisfied with the support (p=0.006) and the treatment outcome (0.018) than T&CM users. The use of T&CM was not related to gender, education, living conditions, causal treatment such as disease modifying-therapy (DMT), grade of disability or subtype of the disease. Conclusion. Patients diagnosed with MS seek hope in T&CM such as homeopathy or acupuncture. The results of this study suggest that MS patients need more professional support in their personal search for alternative therapies. Key point. 50% of patients diagnosed with multiple sclerosis search relief in traditional and complementary medicine such as homeopathy or acupuncture. These patients often feel compelled to try every opportunity to heal, often stimulated or urged on by friends or relatives. Multiple sclerosis patients are more satisfied with their conventional treatment than with the traditional and complementary medicine.

Through his personality, enthusiasm, analytical mind, humour and dedication, Willem has inspired an entire generation of sceptics. We will miss you Willem.

3 Responses to Willem Betz (1943 – 2019)

  • His passing is a loss for all of us. To you, Edzard, my condolences.

  • Many, if not most patients arrive at T&CM after a history of progressing to a more serious stage with conventional treatment. So we usually see a sicker population which is more difficult to treat. Their earlier treatment with conventional medicine was during the period when they were healthier and thus might account for their greater satisfaction with it. Is that accounted for in his study?

  • As you point out, he learned and briefly taught SCAMs. This from Wikipedia:

    “However, he started to question the explanations given for the successes that were being claimed by alternative treatments and began to investigate the existing evidence for these methods.”

    This next part just about sums it up, doesn’t it?

    “According to Betz, the explanations can be found in the field of psychosomatics (which studies how the mind can affect the body), in the placebo effect, in the fact that many illnesses disappear spontaneously (e.g., common colds) or fluctuate (e.g., allergies), as well as in the deceptive methods of quackery.”

    Like any good scientist, he went where the evidence took him. RIP, Doctor.

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