About 4 million Australians use the “alternative therapies” offered by naturopaths, homeopaths and herbalists.
In May the Federal Government tried to introduce the Therapeutic Goods Act to control the alternative medicine industry but was blocked in the Senate by the Democrats. The Government intends to try again.
In August 1989 a 30-year old West Australian man died after using a herb prescribed by a Chinese herbalist.
The coroner’s finding was death by accident. The incident illustrates the problem that when there is no control by legislation there is also no accountability. If someone died after using medicine prescribed by a doctor it would be big news. Why should there be less accountability for people who prescribe things that have not been scientifically evaluated?
“Alternative therapies” have always been with us but their use mushroomed around 1970. New books on natural healing, on herbs and on wacky things like pyramid energy now come out almost every year.
In 1978 THE ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE described 90 approaches to good health including belly dancing, flower healing, drinking one’s own urine, fasting and staple-puncture. The last named consists of a staple in the ear. When smokers, alcoholics and other addicts get the craving they fiddle with the staple and this makes the desire drop. Seventy per cent of alcoholics allegedly either stopped their habit completely or reduced their consumption by half. Urine drinking plus fasting made one Maurice Wilson supposedly fit enough to try climbing Mt Everest.
The Therapeutic Goods Act would have restricted or banned forty herbal medicines plus certain minerals.
Premises where herbal remedies are prepared are thought to be below accepted safety, quality and cleanliness standards, and this the Federal Government also wants to regulate.
Natural therapists claim that doctors and drug companies consider them a threat due to diminishing revenue. The new regulations will apply to all medicine and its manufacture, but because the big pharmaceutical companies can better meet the costs it is the herbalists and naturopaths who may be forced out of work.
The Hinch program (Channel 7
Julia Sauterel, 47, who in 1985 had terminal cancer of the cervix. She
rejected radical hysterectomy, radiotherapy and chemotherapy in favour
of raw food, organically grown food, juices and enemas and recovered.
It’s easy, however, to find examples of alternative medicine having failed. Some years ago in the Adelaide suburb of Mansfield Park a shopkeeper with breast cancer refused a mastectomy. She sought a cure from faith healers in the Philippines without success. Next she tried the “natural therapies” including raw food, juices, etc. She went down to 60 pounds in weight (27 kilos) and died.
Legislation would prevent herbalists from claiming cancer cures unless the herb in question has been scientifically tested and shown to actually cure cancer. In this way legislation would protect people from having their hopes falsely raised and their money fraudulently diminished.
There are many alternative therapies and means of diagnosis besides naturopathy, herbs and homeopathy. Some are as contrary to known science as can be — such as aura analysis, astrological diagnosis, past lives therapy, medical radiesthesia and pyramid energy.
One skeptic of the Skeptics Association (S.A.) stated: “It seems to me that the public needs protection not just from claims about herbs but from charlatans in general.”
Another stated: “The act of doing something, even seeing a charlatan, can overcome feelings of helplessness, bring about a sense of hope and other psychological changes which in turn may lead to changes in the immune system and lead to a cure.”
The Journal of Religion and Health (1976 No.1 pp 34-37) reported on a survey by doctors in a Boston general hospital: “80% of these patients did not have the physical sickness they complained of, and 84% needed psychiatric care.”
Also relevant in selection of medical treatment is that 15% of all American hospital patients allegedly have illnesses caused by the medical treatment itself. (The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, January 1969)
Such references, taken together, give the impression that if it weren’t for use of orthodox medicine, stressful living, thinking negative thoughts, and going to hospital nobody would ever be sick except perhaps for injuries from accidents and carelessness.
In any legislation the need of the Government to protect its citizens, or even to act paternalistically, must be balanced against the rights of individuals to make their own decisions and select their own lifestyle. And this has to be done although lacking complete knowledge of psychology of medicine and of consequences.
Obviously, not everyone will be