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

I have said it often before, and I will say it again:

Homeopathy and other ineffective so-called alternative medicines (SCAMs) are dangerous mostly because they might replace effective treatments.

The tragic death of an Austrian boy is a stark reminder of this fact. Even though this happened a decade ago, I only just came across this case. It was, to the best of my knowledge, never published in English. Allow me, therefore, to summarize it here:

In 2011, a judge sentenced a couple from East Tyrol to a one-year suspended sentence. Their son, who suffered from a rare congenital immune system disorder (SCID*), had been treated only with homeopathy until he died. The doctor who treated the boy in this way received the same sentence.** The verdicts took into account that the parents and the family doctor did not act out of sheer ignorance, but had been informed about the nature of the disease and its consequences.

The parents told the court that they had previously had extremely negative experiences with conventional medicine when their first two children, who suffered from the same condition, had died. When their third child fell ill, the parents took him to a clinic where a bone marrow transplant was to be carried out, which, according to an expert witness, would have had a 95 % chance of curing the boy. Because the parents were put off by the sight of other children in the hospital, they took their son home again and withheld all further conventional treatments or appropriate examinations. Instead, they instructed their family doctor to cure the boy with homeopathy. The doctor refrained from administering antibiotics when the illness worsened due to an infection and failed to admit the boy to a hospital when he became severely ill.

The child then died of sepsis. The autopsy revealed that he was malnourished and one of his ear canals as well as his lungs were necrotic with inflammation.

______________________

It is hard not to be repulsed and nauseated by such stories. They show how dangerously unreasonable some homeopaths and their followers are. And they remind us that even a seemingly harmless SCAM will cost lives in the hands of such fanatics.

 

* Severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) is a group of rare disorders caused by mutations in different genes involved in the development and function of infection-fighting immune cells. Infants with SCID appear healthy at birth but are highly susceptible to severe infections. The condition is fatal, usually within the first year or two of life, unless infants receive immune-restoring treatments, such as transplants of blood-forming stem cells, gene therapy, or enzyme therapy.

**Personally, I find the sentence for the doctor far too lenient. One could argue that the parents had been punished by the loss of their child and thus deserve merci, but the doctor?

6 Responses to The case of a boy tortured to death with homeopathy

  • It was my thought too, reading through this, and before I came to the ** point, that the Doctor should have had a much more severe sentence.

    It’s understandable that parents who are ‘lay persons’ not having medical qualifications, might be open to terrible misinformation. And I guess an emotional reaction to seeing very sick children in hospital might be understandable. Though mind you, in this case, having alreaady lost two children to the same condition, you could suppose they’d have thought better of trying for a third child. Perhaps they had strong religious views against contraception, or simply unrealistic hopes genetically.

    But that a qualified doctor would collude in this mistreatment is just awful. How could a doctor become convinced that homeopathy could favourably alter this serious genetic condition? Evidently there needs to be much stronger legislation against the disemmination of false medical ideas.

    It does sound from the report, too, as if there were unfortunate failures in sympathetic communication with the parents.

    • This was clearly gross negligence manslaughter by the doctor, if such an offence exists in Austria. Was he/she struck off?

      • I tried to find out but was not successful

        • The German Wikipedia has a short section on Fahrlässige Tötung (negligent manslaughter).

          Translated:

          The basic case of non-intentional homicide is negligent homicide (Germany § 222, Austria § 80, Switzerland Art. 117). Negligent acts are those who do not consider the consequences of their behavior due to negligent carelessness (unconscious negligence) or who do not take it into account (deliberate negligence).
          [Google Translate]

          I assume that the section/article numbers are references to the relevant criminal codes (Strafgesetzbucher). There’s a table a little further down in the body of the article about further relevant sections of the criminal codes, with links to them.

          Not a lawyer, but it doesn’t seem impossible to me that the doctor’s behaviour might fall under that section of the Austrian criminal code.

  • And here’s another case of a naturopath who knows more than the specialists…https://www.smh.com.au/national/naturopath-charged-over-baby-death-20030304-gdgd6u.html

  • Caveat emptor.
    But ‘buyers’ do have to be made aware.
    Has THR the PoW been sent this case to improve his understanding?

    Yes tu quoque is a logical fallacy and generally not helpful, but this case does seem to be at the extreme of where no proper doctor would venture.

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