What's the harm?
That's a question I hear a lot when discussing alternative medicine and all the included disciplines, like chiropractic, homeopathy, naturopathy, traditional "medicine" (including Chinese medicine), acupuncture, and many others.
I always point out that the harm comes from two sides. One side is the actual lack of medicinal and therapeutic value in all those alt-med offshoots. The other side is the fact that when we suspend our critical thinking in one area, we tend to stop using our brains across the board, and that can lead to more problems with rational decision making.
From time to time I catch a news on the interwebs, that illustrates the first issue so clearly, it is hard to read.
The original link is here (in Polish):
6-latka operowana po "leczeniu" u bioenergoterapeuty
which means: "A six year old undergoes a surgery after being treated by a naturopath" (I'm not sure if there is a better word in English than naturopath).
Let me explain...
In the town of Toruń, in central Poland, a local court ordered a naturopath to close down his "bioenergy" therapy business and pay a fine, after he treated a six-year old for a cold. After the initial session, in which he diagnosed the child with pneumonia, he continued to treat her for a month and a half, prescribing strong steroids (which he's not allowed to do) and treating her fever over the phone. When the parents noticed a large lump between the girl's ribs, they finally took her to a hospital, where she had to have a major surgery to treat her deteriorated lungs and where she spent more than five weeks, some of it in the intensive care unit.
The judge also said that she is planning to bring the case against the parents for failing to provide adequate care to their daughter, which seems to be reasonable, as they refused to take the child to a real doctor for weeks and almost killed their daughter in the process.
Unfortunately, one thing that bothers me is the fact that the naturopath is only required to close down his business for three years! Since the article mentions that he's been doing it for 20 years and that his mother was also a "famous" healer, I bet he'll be back treating people with magic and woo in no time.
Another point that stands out from this article is the fact that the guy has a "bioenergy healer" license. There is a lot of discussion in various states in the US about licensing alt-med "doctors". The opposition usually brings up one great point: any kind of license, legitimizes the profession, which, in case of alt-med is based on magic, wishful thinking and general woo-woo. For a lay person, a license makes the potential therapy look real and puts it on the same level as evidence-based medicine. Licensing alt-med scams might be a way to earn some extra tax dollars, but it creates a false sense of security for the general public.
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