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

An article in the Daily Mail (I know, not my favorite newspaper either) reported about a UK court case against the father of an 11-year-old daughter who objected to her being given conventional life-saving treatments for her leukemia. The man was said to be worried about possible side effects and wanted to explore homeopathic and natural therapies, while his estranged wife favored the conventional approach.

Mr Justice Hayden decided that there is ‘no basis’ for the man’s homeopathic option and that specialists can lawfully carry out the conventional treatments. But the father said he believed that previous chemotherapy had already weakened his daughter’s immune system and that the conventional treatment proposed has further side effects. He, therefore, wanted to try homeopathic and natural therapies, including ozone therapy. ‘I am not waiting for her to deteriorate and get worse,’ he told the judge. ‘Chemotherapy is not the only way. There are so many other different therapies I am hoping to try – anything as long as it doesn’t really affect her.’

A specialist treating the girl told the judge that the treatments proposed are the best option and that they know of no homeopathic options which would help. Mr Justice Hayden approved Great Ormond Street’s plan and said doctors should start the treatments as soon as possible. ‘If she receives no treatment then her life expectancy is weeks,’ he said. ‘There is no basis for the father’s homeopathic option.’

This case highlights the indirect risks of homeopathy and similar treatments in an exemplary fashion. The therapies per se might be harmless but the therapists are clearly not. There are enough homeopaths who are deluded enough to persuade their patients that homeopathy can alter the natural history of even serious conditions such as cancer. And, as we have discussed recently, these irresponsible fools are not just from the ranks of the lay-homeopaths (homeopaths who have not been to medical school) who might not know better; they also include medically trained homeopaths and even professors at leading medical schools.

 

3 Responses to Homeopathy for childhood leukemia: “There is no basis for the homeopathic option”

  • The future king of England, Charles is his name, is rather partial to the homeopathic option. Perhaps he could be introduced to your blog.

  • I can understand that this father wants to spare his daughter the suffering and side effects associated with chemotherapy – however, as the child’s doctors already state, it is almost certain that rejecting chemotherapy will be the death of his child, period. I’m afraid that this is not sufficiently clear to the man.
    In 1950, childhood leukaemia was a child’s death sentence in virtually all cases. Since then steady progress has been made in treating this condition, and nowadays, ALL has a 90% survival rate, and AML still some 70% – almost all through improved chemotherapy.
    It is therefore not acceptable that a parent could decide to withhold this kind of treatment for their child in favour of unproven quackery, especially, as already noted, because there will always be extremely arrogant and self-deluded quacks(*) who claim to be able to successfully treat cancer and other deadly conditions.

    Now this case has been decided by a judge, and luckily in favour of the girl, but I think that legislation should make these situations impossible in the first place. It would of course be best if unproven alternative treatments would be banned altogether. But as this appears to be a bit too much to ask for, I propose that alternative practitioners should be banned from treating children – at least until the age of 14 or 16, when some sort of informed consent can be obtained from the children themselves. Even though most cases are less crucial than this one, lots of children are ‘treated’ with quackery, often to their detriment. I recall a case where a 12-y/o boy with proctitis was treated by a homeopath for almost two years, needlessly suffering both physically and socially, and costing the parents several thousand pounds – just because they though that the quite effective immunosuppressants were ‘harmful chemicals’. And even after two years without real improvement, the quack told them to keep hope and offered yet another ‘possible remedy’ to try …

    *: And it is my opinion that medically trained doctors and professors who turn to homeopathy and other wholly unproven treatments have fully abandoned their education and are no better than an ignorant lay quack – if anything, they are worse, because they still flaunt their titles to gain people’s trust.

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