I bow to no-one in my admiration for the writing of Alan Bennett. It probably helps that he's a Yorkshireman, albeit from the evil that is Leeds. I've recently been re-reading his book 'Untold Stories'. In a piece entitled 'An average rock bun', Bennett writes about his experience with cancer of the colon, the approximate size of the tumour lending the piece its title. This is typically modest, unassuming and moving stuff, but what I found most interesting was Bennett's experience with homeopathy.
After an operation to remove the tumour, Bennett is due to begin precautionary chemotherapy. At the same time, he explores some alternative treatments, and after talking to his GP, decides that homeopathy might help. I'm somewhat ambivalent about this. After all, as long as Bennett continues with the chemotherapy, a homeopathic treatment can't do any harm, and even if it only has a placebo effect it might still help him to feel better. What is disgraceful is what happens when Bennett visits a "reputable complementary health clinic in Harley Street". He manages to get an appointment at 7am, and sees the complementary therapist. He explains that he has already decided on a course of chemotherapy, and wants to take homeopathic treatments alongside it.
As Bennett writes: "He proceeded to pour scorn on chemotherapy, the benefits of which he said were unproven, and when I didn't budge, rather sulkily conducted some finger-tip tests, which I took to be to do with the homeopathy, but done in such a perfunctory fashion I'm not sure he thought much of the point of this either. People kept coming in with whom he chatted, and throughout treated the business so casually and with such a disregard for my predicament, and presumed agony of mind, that it reminded me of the arrogant and unconcerned conventional doctors one used to come across thirty years ago".
Not very nice, is it? But that's not all. Bennett agreed to have some blood tests done by the complementary clinic. He then received a letter from the therapist, telling him that his blood test results were 'a lot worse than we thought' and that 'without sorting this out, your chances are much less than 50-50'. The cure was a course of vitamin injections. As a playwrite, writer and sometime art historian, Bennett is probably not up to speed with the latest medical research, but he's certainly no fool. As he writes, "All I saw was a barefaced attempt at medical blackmail and a doctor trying to panic me into using his clinic's doubtless expensive facilities". Bennett did not go back to the clinic.
So here we have an example of a homeopathic practitioner rubbishing proven therapies, and suggesting that they be replaced with homeopathy, and then playing on the fears of the patient to get them to take an expensive course of vitamin injections. This is extremely irresponsible and dangerous. Having complementary therapies used beside conventional treatments, under the supervision of a GP, is one thing. Advocating vitamin injections and magic water as a replacement for chemotherapy is a very different thing. Regardless of the science, complementary and alternative medicine needs to get its ethical house in order as a matter of urgency. Then again, the first question they would have to resolve is how you can ethically sell bullshit to people, so you can see why this would be a difficult enterprise.
Edit: If anyone knows what this is doing translated into German here, I'd be interested.