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?