Homeopathic remedies: a real cure or a waste of NHS money? | Life and style | The Observer

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/jan/31/homeopathic-remedies-nhs

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whenever Homeopathy is discussed, you can guarantee that all parties will continue the tradition of asking the wrong question.

The easy question is “Does it work better than a placebo?” The answer is no and that’s been demonstrated by hundreds of reputable studies. NO reputable studies have ever answered that question differently.

However, the problem is that placebos DO work – occasionally – and, on intractable medical conditions they can be almost as effective as our best medicines. Or, to put that the right way round, there are some officially approved medicines whose performance is no better than Placebo (or Homeopathy).

In other words there are some medical situations where the best we can provide for the patient is no more than a Placebo. And the “Right Question” is – in such circumstances, when nothing better is available – “Can we justify lying to the patient?” – in order to give them the small extra chance of benefit which such lies can provide.

It is a profound ethical problem which doesn’t stop within Medicine. If your answer is a comfortable “Yes”, then you are also supporting the same logic which lies at the heart of a major strand of Authoritarian “philosophy” which can be traced back to Plato, though it peaked with Machiavelli and, latterly with Leo Strauss – the mind behind the likes of Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfovitz and the rest of the American Neocons.

They too believe that you should tell the patient/population what is “best for them” regardless of whether it is “the truth”. The Neocons are happy to take this logic to its conclusion and “invent truths” which they hope will persuade the population to adopt or tolerate their policies.

The ethical question is simple: “Do the Ends Ever Justify The Means?” Tony Blair obviously thinks so. The fact that Iraq is now rid of Saddam Hussein and, after a bloody massacre of around half a million people is at last showing signs of becoming a normal violent middle eastern state is – in his mind – enough to justify his support for an illegal invasion on the basis of lies told, at the time, about the extent of the threat posed by the Iraqi dictator. Those lies were necessary for our benefit. Just like the lies which must accompany the medical administration of a Placebo.

Clearly I oppose the political deceit and it’s patronising self justification that the elite somehow know better than I do what is good for me. What I can’t do, though, is justify “forcing the truth” on to someone dying of cancer that there is nothing more we can do for them, if the one thing that might work for them is “faith” (the same reason we could never “ban” religion – it “works” for some people). So how do we square this circle?

The only answer I’ve so far come up with is “informed consent”. Which implies that, at some stage in your late teens or whenever you feel ready to grapple with it, you place on record your preference either to be given the unvarnished truth or to permit the medical authorities to feed you whatever they think is in your best interests. You could even nominate close and trusted friends, family or lawyers whom the authorities could approach for consultation on really serious issues (like whether to give a placebo cancer treatment in otherwise terminal cases). This is similar to the “Living Will” concept and, like a living will, can be changed by the person at any time.

That works for medicine. Might even work for politics – if ever you can be persuaded to trust a politician as much as you are prepared to trust a doctor. Certainly won’t be my choice!

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About Harry Stottle
Refugee from the Stumbleupon Blogicide of October 2011 Here you will find my "kneejerk" responses to the world and what I happen to bump into. For my more detailed considerations and proposals, please visit my website or my previous main blogging site.

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