The doctors fight back

The voice of reason – in the form of a group of doctors in the UK is challenging NHS spending on ‘complementary medicines’.

Prince Charles, a long-time fan of homeopathy and other alternative therapies and so an expert in medical treatment had the following to say.

“Many of today’s complementary therapies are rooted in ancient traditions that intuitively understood the need to maintain balance and harmony with our minds, bodies and the natural world.”

“Much of this knowledge, often based on oral traditions, is sadly being lost, yet orthodox medicine has so much to learn from it.”

The ‘ancient’ connection is often thrown up to explain why things must be valid. Religions are a classic example of this – it’s lasted this long so there must be something in it.
Unfortunately this doesn’t hold water. Many of the compounds used in conventional medical treatment are indeed based on natural remedies. Aspirin is a good example as is quinine. There is one important thing that separates aspirin from homeopathy though – aspirin has been tested and found to be effective.

Let’s look at some treatments.

Homeopathy – was invented in the 18th century (hardly wisdom of the ancients) by Samuel Hahnemann. It’s based entirely on sympathetic magic – the idea that like can cure like. If you’ve heard the expression “The hair of the dog that bit you” then you will find homeopathy easy to understand. To this day there is no scientific evidence to prove that it’s effective. Certain things like the laws of biology and even the laws of physics get in the way.

Acupunture is a traditional Chinese medical treatment. Acupuncture may actually have benefits but it certainly doesn’t work in the way that the ancient masters tell us it does.

Reiki is yet another therapy that relies on mystical energies that can’t be measured through scientific means. It’s claimed that this is an ancient practice but it seems to have appeared during the 20th century by a monk who claims to have rediscovered ancient wisdom.

Although conventional medicine does indeed have something to learn from traditional remedies, I doubt that reiki or homeopathy will be teaching doctors anything. The only lesson I can see is that doctors should try to spend more time with their patients to give them a little emotional boost.

More to the point, why should the NHS be spending money on these unproven treatments when they could be using that money to help people using properly tested medicines?

I’ll finish with these comments from proponents of alternative medicine.

Dr Peter Fisher, of the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, described the letter as an attempt to introduce a form of “medical apartheid” into the NHS.

Terry Cullen, chairman of the British Complementary Medicine Association, said: “It’s very frustrating that senior responsible people dismiss complementary medicine for the sole reason that it doesn’t have the definitive scientific proof that other drugs have.

I think both these gentlemen share the same basic misunderstanding of what medicine is. Doctors are scientists and their treatments are based on science. That doesn’t mean that medicine starts and stops with chemicals proven to effect change in the body. A simple reassuring talk can work wonders as can a sugar pill. The important thing is that the doctor have a sound medical basis for the treatment, not a series of testimonials and metaphysical bullshit.

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