83: Euthanasia Legislation, Homeopathy

By on November 14, 2012

Robin, Tom, and Chris discuss a recently published perspective on so-called “right to die” laws and their religious influence. Also discussed is the albeit non-religious though irrational belief in homeopathic products.

Discussion

Chris Boston

Hey guys; I’ve been a follower of your show for about six months now, and I really like what you all do. I’m really glad you touched on homeopathy, because it’s a problem of which I feel strongly. I was wondering; what are your opinions on the “homeopathic” product Zicam? I have several friends who will swear by it, and in my research, I can’t actually find a guarantee that it is really homeopathic. I know it’s a scam of some kind either way, but I’ve read from numerous sites that it is actually a potentially harmful product which only markets as “homeopathic” to avoid going through the FDA. Do you guys know anything about that issue, and if so, any ideas on how to approach my friend?

I’m glad you asked because I was under the impression zinc had some effect on colds. I can’t tell you anything Wikipedia can’t (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zicam) but:

It sounds like it isn’t a “true” homeopathy product as there are trace amounts of zinc in the product. The question left is whether zinc is effective in shortening colds, which sounds like an unanswered question given the erroneous nature of studies done so far, and a dangerous one given zinc’s effect on your sense of smell.

I can say that Zicam goes through some kind of FDA regulation, but not the same necessarily as homeopathic remedies. See this: http://healing.about.com/od/homeopathy/a/homeopathy_fact_4.htm.

Kristen

Hi Chris and co.,

I’m here in Auroville, what you might describe as a New Age communal experiment, where “alternative” therapies flourish. I do not have direct experience with any of them (or allopathic drugs for that matter, since I’ve been here), so my comment is based on what I have observed.

These therapies work for people. Homeopathy, reiki, acupuncture, ayurveda, etc – they all help people feel healthier. Might they be completely or partially based on the placebo effect? Of course. But I argue that it doesn’t matter – they fulfill their purpose. Health is improved. A crusade to save people from being suckered in this regard is misguided.

Your critique that consumers are being exploited to make money is just that. To pick on homeopathy is silly, not least because it also exists outside of American drugstores. To be consistent you have to include at least the pharmaceutical industry, and probably the entire capitalist system, in your critique.

Christopher Thielen wrote: “It sounds like it isn’t a “true” homeopathy product as there are trace amounts of zinc in the product.”

According to how they think on Planet Homeopathy, that there are traces of active ingredient in a product doesn’t stop it being a true homeopathic product; it just means it is not as “potent” as it would be had it been diluted so that not a single molecule of active ingredient remains.

Kristen, people who aren’t very sick in the first place may well “feel healthier” after taking those pre-science cult therapies but the point is that these therapies do not actually cure anything and when they are taken INSTEAD of effective, science-based meds, the consequences can be tragic. That is why promoting them is unethical and it is absolutely right to expose them for the nonsense they are. If you remain unconvinced I suggest you read the stories of some of those who died because they (or their parents) put their faith in homeopathy. Here are a few names to be going on with: Penelope Dingle, Cameron Ayres, Gloria Thomas, Janeza Podgoršek.

I particularly recommend the ‘Death by Homeopathy’ documentary about Penelope Dingle, which can be viewed on youtube.

Kristen

@Skepticat

A placebo does not actually cure anything, yet a placebo can work in a very real way.

Yes, continuing to rely on any treatment that is proving ineffective is a bad idea. But you can’t jump from that to “promoting them is unethical”. Might as well say that promoting exercise or healthy food is unethical, since they won’t cure you, either.

Kristen, perhaps I didn’t make my point clearly enough because you seem to have missed it completely.

This is not about “continuing to rely on any treatment that is proving ineffective”, it is about promoting homeopathy as if it were an effective treatment for any specific ailment. This is exactly what homeopaths do, as I’m sure you know and this is what is unethical. If a homeopath were to say, “These are sugar pills that have been prepared according to homeopathic principles and if you have enough faith in them they may make you feel better but won’t actually cure you”, there would be no objection.

It is equally unethical to promote diet and exercise regimes as cures for a specific condition.

In defending the promotion of homeopathy, you are effectively arguing that it is OK to lie to people and rip them off.

Kristen

A homeopath who does not believe that homeopathy works is acting unethically by promoting it.

A homeopath who believes that homeopathy works is not acting unethically by promoting it.

So as long as somebody believes in what they are doing, it isn’t unethical, right? The promotion of, say, thalidomide in pregnancy by Big Pharma wasn’t unethical because, in spite of the fact that it had not been tested for use during pregnancy, it was OK to promote it as such because they believed it would be fine.

Sorry, no. The totality of evidence available to us is that homeopathy remedies are not effective for any named condition. That being the case, it is indeed unethical to encourage a faith in it and everyone who does so must bear some responsibility when tragedies ensue.

Fortunately, in law, ignorance and “belief in what you’re doing” are not acceptable defences for criminal behaviour.

Kristen

Big Pharma is not a person. A person who misrepresents or supports the misrepresentation of information is acting unethically. A person who promotes what zhe believes to be true is not acting unethically.

Lying or misrepresenting are unethical because they are self-contradictory. Knowing/believing one thing yet expressing another is internally inconsistent.

You seem to imply that there is a universal moral code floating around that people can contradict unknowingly. Please, where and what is it?

Criminality is irrelevant to this debate about what is ethical.

The question of how heavily personal beliefs factor into ethics is a good debate to have. Putting that aside however:

The problem with advocating homeopathy is that it truly is false. Not “false” based on what people believe or don’t believe, but false based on honest, rational, verifiable empiricism.

Numerous studies have been done of the years and there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever to justify the claims of homeopathy, nor is it even made clear by its advocates what mechanism it’s utilizing. If they feel better, as you mentioned, it certainly is the placebo effect.

It’s one thing to hold a belief in the face of the ambiguous, but it’s another to hold (and advocate) that belief in the face of insurmountable evidence to the contrary.

Nicely put, Christopher. I wish could be as concise!

Kristen said, “Big Pharma is not a person”.

I’m sure you know that the decisions made by Big Pharma are made by human beings just like the homeopathy industry.

“A person who misrepresents or supports the misrepresentation of information is acting unethically.”

This is exactly what homeopaths do, consistently.

“A person who promotes what zhe believes to be true is not acting unethically.”

If this were true, we would have to say that many cases of torture and terrorism are not unethical even though innocent lives are lost. That the 9/11 bombers were acting ethically because they believed they were doing the right thing. The same goes for parents who force their daughters into unwanted marriages. There is no end of examples of people acting with sincere belief that what they are doing is for the greater good but who, in doing so, are causing untold suffering. According to your personal moral code, this is apparently OK. According to mine, it isn’t.

“You seem to imply that there is a universal moral code floating around that people can contradict unknowingly. Please, where and what is it?”

I could say the same to you. My personal moral code is in keeping with a humanist world view, which rejects the cultural relativism you are promulgating because it is fundamentally inhumane.

“Criminality is irrelevant to this debate about what is ethical.”

It isn’t actually because the law is the embodiment of societal moral codes and there is a surprising universality about it when it comes to medical negligence. Healthcare practitioners are expected to act responsibly pretty much everywhere, funnily enough.

It behoves anyone providing healthcare advice or treatments to be properly informed and truthful. As CT points out in his latest comment, in the case of homeopathy, there is a huge wealth of evidence that it doesn’t work; in 200 years there hasn’t been a single documented case of it having cured anything. In every case of it supposedly having treated anything successfully, there is a far more rational explanation for the perceived benefit. These data are available to anyone who takes an interest but homeopaths don’t. Their minds are too closed to the possibility that they can be wrong. This is why they have been responsible for needless tragedies and why it isn’t “silly to pick on homeopathy”, as you claim.

We seem to have come full circle so unless you have some new and interesting perspective to bring, I’m done here. Thanks for the debate.

Philip

In the latest episode where you were discussing suicide and pondering why it was made illegal hundreds of years ago. I think you got really close to an answer with your discussion about serfs and slaves and the diminishing of the labor force, but I think you need to take it one step further. My suggestions is that the next step is the fact that, in that age with serfs and slaves, suicide is willful destruction of property (theft/vandalism/etc) and seen as harming the owner rather than the individual killing themselves. Given how ruling was a divine right, of course the religion would morph to support the needs of the rulers in making it not just illegal but a sin.

Robin Marie

I just wanted to add this to the debate with Kristen — she stated: ” To be consistent you have to include at least the pharmaceutical industry, and probably the entire capitalist system, in your critique.”

I am totally down with this project.

Robin Marie

(Although I don’t agree exactly with her point; but yes, is there something unethical about selling people medicine, ie commodifying health? Absolutely.)

Geo

It’s funny how “skeptics” are only skeptical of alternatives to orthodoxy. “Modern” medicine kills hundreds of thousands every year. Why are you not skeptical of them? Smells like hypocrisy to me. http://www.whale.to/w/iatrogenic.html

Christopher Thielen

@Geo I can’t speak for the broad group of ‘skeptics’ but it’s a mistake to assume our panelists think of modern medicine as safe: modern medicine has fatalities. The difference between modern medicine and homeopathy are the scientific methods applied to modern medicine that allow for rational discourse and study. We learn with every mistake instead of closing our eyes and trusting that something chemically identical to water would have healing effects.

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