By Mary Anne Pankhurst
There are dangers that can accompany the designation of “Dr.” to people who work in the broad, $ multi-billion marketplace of alternative medicine. Governments and citizens can be tricked, seriously harmed or even killed by the plausible-sounding notions and potions sold by well-spoken, caring practitioners, who use quasi-medical language and props like white coats and stethoscopes.
Here are but a few of the headlines that demonstrate harm: Health Canada investigating after Victoria naturopath treats boy with rabid-dog saliva; Naturopath jailed for at least seven months for role in starving infant and Diabetic teen dies after prescribed herbs instead of insulin — the naturopath is going to prison.
“Medical doctors don’t think of medicine as a marketable commodity whereas people selling alternative medicine think of it as something that can be packaged and wrapped-up to sell for profit,” says Britt Hermes, an ex-naturopath who is presently a PhD student in evolutionary biology at the University of Kiel, Germany. Hermes also blogs at Naturopathic Diaries.
Again, no one doubts whether naturopaths are caring individuals. They’re running their businesses in the manner in which they were trained.
Likewise, no one questions whether Canadians David and Collet Stephan loved their son Ezekiel. But the facts leading up to his death are heart-rending, as they are shocking.
In short, as the Alberta toddler’s infection worsened, his parents failed to have him assessed by a medical doctor, even when they observed his body had become so stiff, and his back arched to the point where they were unable to place their son in his car seat, they laid their little boy down in the car and drove – roughly the distance of Cornwall to Ottawa – to a naturopath’s clinic in Lethbridge, AB., where his mother purchased over-the-counter echinacea.
So, is it possible that Cornwall’s decision-makers might have been razzle-dazzled by sciency-sounding information provided by the naturopath who was awarded the $45,000. grant?
As Britt Hermes explains, it’s possible.
“When I was a student at Bastyr, we were trained as lobbyists, (meaning) how to speak to government officials. I came out of that training really good at convincing people that my education was on par with a medical doctor’s. I had graphs and charts to show, and classes with the same names as real medical courses. It’s genuinely confusing to people, especially with language like ‘primary care physician,’ so I could see how anybody would be misled.”
Dr. Michelle Cohen, a family physician in Brighton, Ont., and an assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at Queen’s University shares an additional concern about the evolution of language within the alternative medicine marketplace.
“Trends we are seeing is the deliberate muddying of the waters around science and pseudoscience. Whereas 20 years ago, alt-health professions seemed more interested in distancing themselves from science-based medicine and offering something different, now the tendency is to present alt-health as just another type of medicine. This dovetails with the way snake oil sellers often borrow the language of science to sound legitimate, even when there’s no real scientific meaning to the words being used. This is confusing for the general public (especially those without a science background) as it can become a cacophony of competing claims without clear separation between science fact and science fiction.”
Besides, as is often reported, if any alternative medicine passes the scientific rigour required to show efficacy and safety, a product or practice simply becomes part of modern science-based medicine. Additionally, when once-accepted parts of modern are revealed by the same scientific rigour and shown to be ineffective or harmful, they’re eliminated.
Hermes was also asked what to make of the following information found on a Cornwall naturopath’s website: Naturopathic doctors can safely prescribe natural treatments that will work to enhance the effectiveness, reduce the side effects and rebalance any deficiency from your prescription medications.
“That’s fancy marketing to lure patients in. To somehow suggest that a naturopath might somehow lessen or mitigate side effects is all just woo-woo language. It’s meaningless, and patients can come away with an illusion of false healthiness. Besides, very little time is spent on pharmacology. Many naturopath students will spend a year on homeopathy and what’s known as a ‘quarter’ or about 12 weeks on pharmacology. Medical doctors spend tens of thousands of hours .”
Ms Pankhurst will be coming out with part three of this story soon. In the meanwhile, if you can, post your comment in this story.
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