Edzard Ernst: Alternative medicine remains an ethics-free zone

Shelf sign: Homeopathy is nonreturnable

Homeopathy is nonreturnable

From today’s Guardian:

Therapeutic decisions of any kind should normally be taken after a healthcare professional has provided evidence-based advice to a patient. In alternative medicine, by contrast, consumers often make up their own minds whether to try this or that treatment; advice is not mandatory but information is abundantly available.

In order to ensure the consumers’ choice generates more good than harm, the publicly available information on alternative medicine would need to be reliable. We all know that this is not the case and that insisting on 100% reliability in a free market would be Utopian. Who, for instance, could even begin to vet the 50m or so websites that supply consumers with information on alternative treatments? But at the very least, information provided by healthcare professionals should not endanger the consumer.

The undeniable fact, however, is that the information supplied by practitioners of alternative medicine is often incomplete, wrong or dangerously misleading to the point of seriously endangering public health and thus violating medical ethics.

Pharmacists, don’t get too comfortable. He continues:

Alternative clinicians are not the only ones who behave unethically. Pharmacists who sell homeopathic remedies or Bach Flower Remedies without making it clear that they contain not a single molecule of active ingredient also violate their own ethical code. In fact, all healthcare professionals who administer, prescribe or promote disproven treatments break fundamental rules of medical ethics.

More here.

For more on ethics, alternative medicine, and pharmacy practice, here are some related posts from the SBP archives:

Placebos as Medicine: The Ethics of Homeopathy

Pharmacists, Pharmacies, Homeopathy, and Ethics

Homeopathy and Consumer Protection

Homeopathy Update

Photo from flickr user swilkes used under a CC licence.