Guest post by Richard Rasker
Author’s disclaimer: this article is mostly based on the situation in the US, but also applies to many other countries as well, at least in part. Also, corrections are welcome, as I have not been able to find information on all legal details mentioned here. My apologies in advance for any inaccuracies or untruths. These will be corrected if signalled.
Homeopathy has been around for well over 200 years now. Despite the fact that it has been thoroughly debunked by science as a legitimate form of medicine already as early as 1835 (and many, many times more since then), and is based on principles that fly in the face of basic laws of chemistry, physics, and even logic, it still has quite a lot of practitioners and followers. And despite the fact that there is not a single homeopathic ‘remedy’ with proven efficacy for even one condition, homeopaths keep claiming that it is a very effective form of medicine. In fact, quite a few practitioners even maintain that their treatments are better than regular medical treatments, which are often dismissed as ‘allopathy’, and ‘just suppressing symptoms’, whereas they themselves claim to ‘treat the root cause of diseases’. And yes, this not only sounds arrogant, it is arrogant.
Where does this arrogance come from? How can these people keep on making claims that have been proven false countless times already? And why are they allowed to pretend that they are a kind of doctor, even if many of them have no medical training whatsoever?
It turns out that homeopaths not only think that they are special, but that in many countries, they indeed enjoy quite a few what I would call Peculiar Perks and Privileges:
• Homeopaths are allowed to treat people suffering from medical complaints without having received any medical training whatsoever.
• Homeopaths are exempt from most of the rules that real doctors are subject to. E.g. homeopaths do not have to bother with things like keeping medical records; they are not obliged to register anything about their patients conditions, treatments, or treatment outcomes.
• Homeopaths, unlike real doctors, are not legally obliged to keep up with the current state of medical science – quite the contrary, in fact: homeopaths are allowed to treat patients in ways that fly in the face of modern science, and are instead based on ancient belief in (sympathetic) magic.
• Homeopaths are not accountable to anyone or any organization with regard to their activities and professional conduct. Even when patients in their care suffer harm, they are almost never disciplined. (And real doctors are usually expected to clean up the mess.)
• Homeopaths are allowed to lie about their ‘remedies’, e.g. they can claim that it contains an ‘active ingredient’ that is completely absent.
• Homeopathic preparations can be legally registered, sold and marketed as medicines without any testing of efficacy and safety whatsoever.
• European law even goes one step further: member states are required to register homeopathic preparations as medicines without requiring any evidence of therapeutic efficacy. This is bizarre, as the same EU laws demand that real medicines must have proven efficacy before they can be registered. In effect, EU law gives homeopathy the explicit privilege to lie to its customers about the efficacy of their ‘medicines’.
So yes, homeopathy must be Very Special indeed to have all these privileges! And it is therefore quite understandable that many homeopaths think of themselves as healthcare professionals. Yet in spite of this, many homeopaths are not quite satisfied, and crave the ultimate prize: official recognition of homeopathy as a part of real medicine.
I argue that this is an excellent idea, under one condition: if homeopaths want to be regarded as real medical professionals, then they should also be held to the same standards as medical professionals. This means that homeopathic preparations should only be approved as medicines after providing proper scientific evidence of both safety and efficacy. Also, homeopaths should no longer be allowed to treat patients without receiving any medical training. Instead, they should be educated to the same standards as other doctors before being allowed to practice their medicine.
So I really hope that homeopaths get what they want: the same rights and obligations as real doctors. Let’s see how long they last if they actually have to demonstrate the viability and benefits of their diagnoses, remedies and treatments!
But joking apart, at the very least the bizarre privileges for homeopathy should be abandoned, and lawmakers should re-evaluate the rationale (or rather the lack thereof) behind these privileges, which are as archaic and outdated as homeopathy itself.
An important point of action therefore would be to properly educate those lawmakers and legal institutions about the medical and scientific consensus on homeopathy, as these organizations still base a lot of their views and decisions on the long-refuted principles of homeopathy. In doing so, it should be emphasized that not only does modern science not support any of the premises of homeopathy, but that in well over 200 years, homeopathy itself has never come up with even one(!) ‘remedy’ for which there is actual evidence of efficacy in a properly conducted scientific trial.: In the US, the only requirement for approval of a homeopathic preparation as a medicine is that a group of homeopaths (the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia Convention of the United States(**)) gives a particular preparation their blessing. However, this decision is solely based on a declaration from the manufacturer of the product that a so-called ‘proving’ has taken place, which means that a dozen or so healthy people have taken the product and recorded any unusual ‘symptoms’ they experienced. Homeopaths believe that this preparation can then treat sick people with similar symptoms. This is nothing short of insane, for more than one reason:
• This ‘proving’ proves nothing at all, as it involves no patients and no illness whatsoever. If any pharmaceutical company would test their products in this way, they would be forced to close their business immediately.
• There is not a shred of evidence that what makes healthy people feel ill can cure sick people. Give a healthy person poison, and he will get sick. Give a sick person poison, and he will get even sicker – regardless of the actual symptoms caused by the disease or the poison.
• The whole concept that a homeopathic preparation can cause symptoms in healthy people, yet cure those symptoms in sick people is in fact extremely silly. Just think about it: according to homeopaths, if you give a healthy person Remedy X, they then would get all sorts of symptoms associated with that remedy. But now comes the million-dollar question: how do you cure these people after they developed these symptoms? Well, you give them Remedy X again of course!
**: Recently, the Center for Inquiry has filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information act to obtain access to the so-called Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States (HPUS). The HPUS is a register listing all homeopathic preparations that have been granted the legal status of medicine, complete with all details about those preparations. However, even though the HPUS is highly important from a legal and medical point of view, it is not publicly accessible, with access costing up to $15,000 per year.: Many legal organizations still appear to listen primarily to homeopaths rather than to scientists. E.g. in this editorial, the old and long discredited myths about the viability of homeopathy are repeated verbatim:
“By way of background, homeopathy is the practice of treating symptoms with very small doses of substances that have produced similar symptoms in healthy subjects, and it is based on the principle that “like cures like.” In one sense, homeopathic medicine is the grandfather of vaccines and allergy shots, which are based on the same principle. Homeopathy is a system of medicine that has a well-established framework for demonstrating the effectiveness of products; in particular, effectiveness is shown using “provings,” a procedure employed in healthy individuals to determine the dose of a drug sufficient to produce symptoms.”
As long as legal and official organizations ignore science and blindly follow homeopathy’s misleading explanations and information, homeopathy will keep its undeserved privileges (and also note that ‘privilege’ literally means “[its] own law”)