Here’s the story, via Ben Goldacre’s miniblog, and it’s about a new therapy that professes to heal all disease, including AIDS and advanced forms of cancer. By thinking. Dr Claude Sabbah teaches that cancer and other diseases are formed in the brain first, and must be deprogrammed. He also claims that up to 90 per cent of all illnesses are caused by messages from the medical community. The mind-body link is fascinating, particularly in terms of how the placebo effect can aid recovery, but this is going way too far.
One thing I find interesting in this is the need Sabbah felt to claim that the medical community were causing 90% of all illness. Simply trying to heal people (however misguidedly) wasn’t enough for Sabbah – he also had to malign health professionals who were genuinely healing people. Another classic example of this need to denigrate orthodox medical professionals can be found here [er, the title is about “child abuse” committed by conventional medicine practitioners so maybe not one to read if you’re at work], where Joseph Mercola’s site has a comment up about the “the allopathic murder-medicine model”. That’s right – conventional medicine is some kind of legalised murder. Who are these conspiracy theorists and what feeds their fantasies? Is it just down to reading the Constant Gardener and reading the figures on how many deaths are attributable to side-effects of medicines? What makes people think unregulated Alternative therapies will be better or safer? What makes them think that deaths attributed to Conventional medical care are part of some vast conspiracy? It is acknowledged by all that people die at the hands of doctors, but there is no reason to assume that this is deliberate – in fact, I find the suggestion bizarre. As Dr Ben puts it:
Like many professions who kill people with some regularity, doctors have elaborate systems for seeing what went wrong afterwards, and the answer is rarely “Brian did it”.
A few links may be in order here. Here’s a report on health inspectors ordering an inquiry into 20 deaths from C Diff. A heart surgery unit under investigation for the high death rate there. A report of a clinical study into whether Avandia was to blame for patient deaths. On a slightly different tack, here’s a report of a coroner’s investigation into deaths by morphine overdose. Orthodox, conventional, evidence-based medicine has some pretty good tools to help find out whether treatments are killing or curing too –
Ideas like cumulative meta-analysis from the world of evidence have saved countless lives, and they could save many more. They are clever and they are fascinating. They are the same tools you hear rubbished by big pharma, by homeopaths, and by lobbyists from the $56bn food supplement industry. But you will never find them celebrated, anywhere, in popular culture.
The AltMed industries don’t use these clever tools, they don’t have proper regulation and they aren’t safe. But people (for whatever reason) seem to assume they are. Alternative=natural=safe=healthy. Apparently. I wonder if people are reacting to cues offered by medicine practitioners and, not having the ability to evaluate what is being put forth by either conventional or alternative medicine advocates, are making poor choices. Their inability to understand medicine and health means they are unable to evaluate the quality of the advice they are given or the competence of practitioners such as Dr Claude Sabbah who wants you to think yourself well if you have AIDS or cancer. I’m not sure of the best solution to this problem, but it seems to me that having a public better informed as to the nature of evidence-based medicine would be a good start.
*By the by, this last bit is tenuously related to the paper by Justin Kruger and David Dunning Unskilled and Unaware of It (heh – any excuse to link to this pdf. It’s my new favourite hobby horse).