Do no harm, but do something

Peter Jackson
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Just to be clear, I am a stooge for Big Pharma. I have been bought. They throw wads of cash my way, disguised as grants and consultancy fees.

I am a wealthy man. My lifestyle is just a ruse. I take the bus to work each morning when I could be taking a limo.

Big Pharma flies me all over the world. All my drugs are free, and I’ve had everything: designer drugs, retro drugs, off-the-rack and hand-me-downs.

There, that settles that. Those who want to write me off as a shill for the pharmaceutical industry need go no further. Those who want to deal in facts and reason are welcome to continue.

Regular visitors to this corner (Hi, Mom!) are aware I am no fan of homeopathy. That is an understatement. I consider the production and sale of homeopathic concoctions to be fraud of the highest order.

There is no conceivable way that dilutions in the order of one to a trillion-trillion and beyond can even contain a molecule of active ingredient, and the notion that water can have a “memory” of that ingredient belongs in the realm of LSD hallucination.

Some advocates will say numerous scientific studies have proven the efficacy of homeopathy. This is a lie. The few that are fair and unbiased prove only a placebo effect. Nothing more.

Now, homeopathy is unique among consumable remedies in one important sense: it can have no negative effect for the same reason it has no positive effect. Apart from a bit of added lactose, it is harmless.

And because it poses no safety risk, many of those who question or refute its validity are willing to simply look the other way. Why rock the boat? Why antagonize those practitioners and patients who seek a harmless antidote to their colds and headaches, or a little relief from joint pain?

Well, if a news story from Italy this weekend is any indication, there’s plenty of reason to nip this cycle of delusion in the bud.

According to a story in The Telegraph on Monday, a couple in the southern Italy town of Tricase is being investigated for manslaughter after neglecting to seek conventional treatment for their five-year-old son. The boy, who had been suffering for weeks from cold-like symptoms, died in hospital.

The parents were giving the boy cups of fennel tea. The Guardian incorrectly identifies that as homeopathic treatment; if anything, it’s herbal. But the father in this case is a locally known practitioner of alternative medicine, and is the honorary president of Italy’s Homeopathic Sinergy Association.

There are many questions in this case, not the least of which is whether the child’s death was preventable, and whether the parents’ actions can legally be considered negligent. But there is clearly one lesson that can be taken from it no matter what the outcome: choosing bogus medicine over the real thing can have tragic results.

For every mild-mannered homeopath quietly doling out sugar pills for minor ailments, there is another who is willing to test the boundaries of modern medical standards. And as the willful blindness continues to spread in this poorly regulated field, more and more people are at risk of succumbing to treatable conditions.

Things go wrong in conventional medicine. Drugs can be deadly if administered incorrectly, and patients occasional die from infection and surgical mishaps.

But anyone who says modern medicine doesn’t help many more people than it hurts will have to come up with a pretty creative explanation for modern increases in population and longevity.

Homeopathy does no harm — unless it replaces real medicine in life-and-death situations.

In such cases, it’s as good as poison.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s

commentary editor. Email:

Organizations: Big Pharma

Geographic location: Italy, Southern Italy

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Recent comments

  • Roger
    November 03, 2011 - 22:52

    Jeez, people are really sifting the mountain to find this needle in the haystack. Lets first look at the hundreds of thousands injured or killed by conventional medicine. Lets put the focus where its needed on the really dangerous medicine. Even if homeopathy had been proven ineffective by a few clinical studies which I dispute, this is misplaced attention. But one needs to investigate a 200 year documented history of cured chronic cases. Chronic disease rarely spontaneously remits.

  • Louise
    October 27, 2011 - 16:09

    I am very amused by your comments Peter which had me smiling. Firstly, I did the 4 year course on homeopathy. Secondly, I have watched hundreds of people get better using it. Thirdly homeopathy cured a hard immovable breast lump in 1996 (I did not go to a doctor at all as I didn't want the surgery or the chemo poison or the radiation and it would be very unlikely I would still be here). I have had at least 10 bouts of bronchitis in 20 years cured with homeopathy every time (no antibiotics since May 1991). Twice broke both ankles and never even visited a doctor at all. One was a broken tendon, the other the bone - both 100% now and cured fairly quickly with Symphytum (great bone-knit, tendon-knit). Countless things cured speedily, including cystitis (Arsenicum). Oh, and a terrible right hip problem where I thought I was heading for a wheelchair. Could hardly walk. Absolutely fine now - Psorinum. So many things. What is it with you people that you are DETERMINED, absolutely DETERMINED it can't work? It is really pathetic. Next time you have a headache or something, try it. What are you so afraid of? That it will challenge some of your cherished beliefs or you might have to leave your skeptic friend circle. Try it! I DARE you!

    • anarchic teapot
      October 29, 2011 - 06:57

      Louise, unless you have documented proof of your fantastic claims, they must be considered exactly that: fantastic. As in fantasy. Two broken ankles and not a doctor in sight? Twice? Unlikely. Sure they weren't sprains? Lumps in the breast may merely be cysts, which often disappear of their own accord. No, homeopathy can't work. And unless you can advance solid proof that it does work (please note: "because I say so" doesn't count as proof), there is no reason for anyone to believe otherwise.

  • ChristyRedd
    October 27, 2011 - 11:52

    Homeopathy is a venerable, 200-year-old system of medicine with a laudable safety record. It is the second most used system of medicine (ahead of conventional medicine) in the world today. Its use grows yearly at rates of between 10% and 25% in countries around the world. It is proven safe and efficacious, is inexpensive and green. Readers here interested in personal testimonies can find them at: Readers interested in seeing some of the 100's of studies showing homeopathy works published in 86 respected, national and international peer-reviewed journals can find them at: (scroll down to "Homeopathy's Best Research")

  • Anon
    October 27, 2011 - 08:22

    I'd rather smoke a joint or eat a weed brownie to help me sleep than take some barbituate. The same can go for anti depressants and pain (especially post-op pain)

  • Skepticat UK
    October 27, 2011 - 06:43

    Excellent post and I love how you embrace the 'pharma shill' nonsense. The accusation that anyone putting up a reasoned and intelligent argument against homeopathy must, by definition, be working for Big Pharma, instantly flags up that the accuser is, at best, cerebrally challenged. I note the only response from one who makes a living promoting this pre-science cult therapy is 'it worked for me, you should try it'. How reassuringly predictable. No doubt the father of this poor child said the same things as he served up yet another useless cup of fennel tea.

  • ChristyRedd
    October 26, 2011 - 17:05

    I found homeopathy after 50+ years of using conventional medicine. It was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. My homeopathic treatment for serious chronic diseases (now long gone), acute illnesses and injuries has been so successful that it is my primary form of medicine. I turn to homeopathy first and before other systems of medicine when I need health care. It's been great for my animals too -- no more itchy flea bites, mammary infections, recurrent boils or infected paws. Great stuff -- you couldn't do better!

  • Petertwo
    October 26, 2011 - 15:46

    Nutrition is a relatively new science and discoveries are happening continually with respect to the bodies many requirements in order to maintain the healthy individual. These come from food, I do not believe that the homeopathic approach is totally placebo, but I do not think it can replace medicine. Scurvy was found to be due to lack of vitamin C, discovered by medicine, as have other vitamins and minerals. It is whatever the body requires that is important. Doctors do not heal, they are highly trained experts in knowing what the body needs to heal itself, and manage and prescribe accordingly. But they have not yet got to the point where they know it all, that we can really dismiss anything that may help a human being.

  • Peter Jackson
    October 26, 2011 - 11:23

    I'm compelled to respond to these posts, because they raise interesting issues. First, to Louise, I am happy and impressed you have been able to avoid conventional medications. I'm sure most people envy you. But there are other ways to explain your good fortune. You are probably a very healthy person to begin with. And you obviously respond well to the belief that homeopathy is helping you. The placebo effect is a very real phenomenon. It can convince you that you are feeling better, and can sometimes even bring about physical changes to a limited degree. As well, you must understand that many pains and illnesses are cyclical, in that the body naturally comes around again. In such cases, many people could benefit from simply doing nothing at all. Take your homeopathic medicine if you wish. But I can assure you the dilutions themselves are doing absolutely nothing. Eli: Your suspicions of Big Pharma are justified. The high costs are explained away as necessary for the high cost of research to produce the drugs. But I do believe far too much of it goes to pure profit. And private interests do play a part in research. There are many documented cases of interference, and extra vigilance is important. But the broad thrust of research on homeopathy cannot be ignored. And the possibility of Big Pharma interference is dubious, since many of these companies actually deal in alternative medicine themselves.

    • Eli
      October 26, 2011 - 14:10

      Good man. For sure you don't have tunnel vision Peter.

  • Eli
    October 26, 2011 - 10:44

    I too take supplements along with a prescribed Rx. But I ask myself in all these studies, who funds them? As an example, recently Wade Locke did a job for Municipalities NL. Guess what? His recommendation, the orgainzation should get additional funding via a "1% solution". He did a study for MNL and gave them the answer they wanted. Medical studies are no different in my opinion. Peter you didn't say what Big Pharma is costing you. They don't raise money selling Oreo cookies.

  • Louise Mclean
    October 26, 2011 - 09:56

    Well I have used nothing else but homeopathic medicines for the last 20 years and have not taken a single pharmaceutical pill in that time! It has cured all the various illnesses and acutes I have had. You should try it!