Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The National Health Service, Homeopathy and Public Ethics

 Hippocrates by Rubens

Hippocratic? Or Hypocrites?

This week, there are two thrusts in coverage of planned National Health Service cutbacks in the United Kingdom. The first involves which programs to cut; up for consideration is extensive payment for fertility treatments. Also up is coverage of homeopathy, a 200-year-old system of medicine subscribed to by the Royal Family, lots of other Brits, a few Americans, tons of Indians (many of whom live, in fact, in England) and many, many French people.

Homeopathy is regarded by mainstream doctors as nothing more than placebos. They believe this because, as mechanics more than scientists, philosophers or artists―all of which physicians were meant to be in more enlightened times as recently as the 18th century―they cannot find any trace of active ingredients within the pellets and liquids dispensed by homeopaths. Modern doctors are apparently ignorant of quantum physics and the work of Dr. Masuro Emoto in which he found that the molecular structure of water changed depending on whether it was from a clear mountain stream or a polluted urban river. Not the contents of the water, mind…the water itself. That is how homeopathy works; the active ingredient, often a poison if used at full strength, is diluted in an inert substance such as purified water and during the process, the active ingredient’s properties are transmitted to the inert carrier.

So, upon that brief and somewhat inexact explanation of how homeopathy works (and it would be inexcusable for me to fail to admit that it is the only form of medicine I have used for more than 30 years), the questions are these:

One form of medicine fits all?
1.  Is it ethical for a doctor to proceed against a form of medical treatment different than that to which he adheres despite a portion of the public believing it is in their best interest to follow that alternate form of medicine?

2.  Is it ethical for citizens and their elected politicians to deny public coverage for such treatments on the same basis as coverage for mainstream treatment?

Regarding question one: If a doctor actually follows the Hippocratic Oath, which admonishes “first, do no harm,” then clearly by removing equal coverage out of public coffers for a minority medical system, they are doing harm. Often, they say they are “protecting” that public from wasting money (their own and the public’s) on what they say are ineffective treatments.

First, those treatments are not ineffective if they promote health in those who use them, which they do, regardless of what the doctors see or do not see in the chemical components of those substances, or on how many double-blind studies have or have not been conducted. (Aside from which, not a week passes that there is not another revelation regarding bogus studies for deadly mainstream pharmaceuticals…so much for “real” science.”) So, on a purely factual basis, they are acting unethically.

When did doctors become God?
Second, on what day did the public relinquish its prerogative to choose its own health care to doctors, or any other so-called and/or self-proclaimed expert? In short, on what day did God (if you believe in one) decide to share power with those who are members of a large, national medical association in some developed nation or other?

Printed below is a copy of a version of the Hippocratic Oath used in many medical schools today. It was written by Louis Lasagna in 1964; he was academic dean of the School of Medicine at Tufts University.

Dr. Lehany, Scotland’s answer to the Luddites
The portions of the Hippocratic Oath which particularly address the issues raised here are italicised. I would particularly draw those to the attention of Dr. Gordon Lehany, author of the most recent assault on homeopathy from the UK medical establishment. Dr. Gordon Lehany is chair of the British Medical Association’s Scottish junior doctors committee, and therefore inordinately influential for the future of medical practice in the UK.

Money, greed and ignorance
Regarding question two―Is it ethical for citizens to justify denial of alternative medical coverage on financial grounds?―the answer is simple. No.

Many of those commenting on public forums on this issue cite the same sorts of mechanistic pseudo-evidence as Dr. Lehany might cite. But by ignoring the work of Dr. Emoto and Canadian researcher Dr. R.H. Clark, who altered the character of water by what he placed next to it, it is as if they are trying to convince themselves and the rest of us that the Remington Standard typewriter is preferable to the computer for quickly producing typed sentences…because the Remington is the one they know how to operate and fix, while they are mystified by computing.

But many raise the issue of cost, as well. Why, they ask, should they pay for this “magic” medicine with their tax dollars?

Again, the answer is simple: Because in a democratic society, each member is responsible for not only his or her own happiness and right to pursue same, but those same rights for every other member. Most people who use homeopathy don’t think much of Big Pharma and its killer compounds, and yet, one doesn’t read of them refusing to spend much larger amounts on it because it is what the majority favour. They actually believe the Hippocratic dictum, First, do no harm. And it would be harmful to a population of sick people to badger and threaten them about the means they have chosen through which to heal, even if one doesn’t personally favour it.

One reaps what one sows. Dr. Lehany is sowing hostility and pandering to a narrow world-view, if not practicing thinly veiled greed. The public commentators are expressing both ignorance and hostility and the obverse of greed, parsimony.

Worse, parsimony directed at those they do not know and yet would harm.


I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.

I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug.

I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient's recovery.

I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death.

If it is given to me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.

I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person's family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.

I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.