Use of Homeopathy Kills Child


I’ve written repeatedly that the decision to use homeopathy is a decision to do nothing at all. Homeopathy is an elaborate placebo system where “remedies” contain no medicinal ingredients and are effectively and literally sugar pills. Given there is no demonstrable medical effect from using homeopathy, I’ve argued strongly that the sale of homeopathy in pharmacies is not only misleading to consumers, it is fundamentally unethical behavior from a health professional. What’s further, an ethicist has pointed out that pharmacists have an ethical responsibility to disclose the scientific facts about homeopathy.  Selling homeopathy in pharmacies contributes to the perception that what is effectively a belief system may have some scientific legitimacy. That’s why I’m an advocate for pharmacy distancing itself from anything to do with homeopathy, because it has no potential to help and a real potential to harm.

So when homeopathy is used in place of real medicine, the risks are real. From Calgary, an avoidable child death has been linked to the use of homeopathy instead of medicine:

The family of a Calgary woman facing criminal charges in connection with the death of her seven-year-old son say they’re in shock over the allegations of neglect. The boy, Ryan Alexander Lovett, died last March after suffering from a strep infection which kept him bedridden for 10 days. Police allege his mother, Tamara Lovett, 44, chose to treat the bacterial infection with homeopathic herbal remedies instead of taking him to a doctor. That decision likely killed the child, police say.

“It was a belief system in homeopathic medicine that contributed to this death,” acting Staff Sgt. Mike Cavilla said.  “It should absolutely serve as a warning to other parents. The message is simple: if your child is sick, take them to the doctor.”

The single mother, who lived in a Beltline basement suite, shunned conventional treatment to follow her belief in holistic remedies. In fact, police say there is no record of the boy ever being taken to the doctor for annual checkups or any treatment. “We have no medical record of his entire life,” said Cavilla.

A culture that grants medical legitimacy to homeopathy increases the risks of harms. Medicine has its risks and benefits, but it delivers the goods.  There isn’t a single reproducible example of homeopathy effectively treating anything, ever. How could it? The treatments are inert. Yet Health Canada licenses homeopathic “remedies” as “safe and effective”, even going so far to grant unique identification numbers to indistinguishable sugar pills. And provinces are granting new powers to alternative-to-medicine providers, like naturopaths, that include homeopathy in their services.

Regrettably, this isn’t the only case of homeopathy leading to bad medical decisions. What’s the Harm? catalogs over 400 cases. This case in Calgary reminds me of the horrific case was that of infant Gloria Thomas in Australia who died of eczema (eczema!), simply because her parents refused to use medication, and relied on homeopathy. Her father, a homeopath, and her mother, were eventually convicted of manslaughter.  Time will tell what becomes of this case in Calgary. It appears it was as avoidable as Gloria Thomas’ death:

An autopsy revealed he died as a result of a Group A Streptococcus infection.  After consulting medical experts and the Crown prosecutor’s office, police arrested the woman at home Friday. She faces charges of criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessities of life. In Canada, it is illegal for a parent or guardian to deny children food, shelter, care and medical attention necessary to sustain life and protection from harm. “If you do not provide medical attention for your sick child, you will be held accountable,” said Cavilla. “The legal requirement is that she get medical attention through traditional western medicine to deal with the illness. And in this case it was a bacterial infection that could have been easily treated with antibiotics such as penicillin.

The death of a child is tragic. When that death was preventable, it’s infuriating. This tragedy, along with the hundreds of others, illustrates the real harms of perpetuating the belief in the magical thinking that is homeopathy.

Photo via the excellent Skeptical Raptor.

41 thoughts on “Use of Homeopathy Kills Child

  1. The article says “is mother, Tamara Lovett, 44, chose to treat the bacterial infection with homeopathic herbal remedies.” Sounds like the reporter confused homeopathy with herbalism. So are you going to call for the ban of the sale of herbs?

    • It is not simply the reporter’s fault. In the ‘healing’ world words have no meaning. if a word SOUNDS GOOD and is seen to be effective as a sales tool, it is used regardless of truth. And herbal medicine is just as allopathic as anything that a doctor does. Herbal medicine is not naturopathic.

      Somehow the public has fallen for these ‘therapists’ being holistic and the physicians of mind and body when they know nothing about either compared to a doctor or clinical psychologist. Ask an ‘energy healer’ what energy is and you will usually get a load of jargon. Press them and they have no idea. They will eventually come back to tranquilisation of the need to change is energy when energy is the need to change.

      And I am completely fair and open minded about alternative medicine. I accept that sometimes, especially in self limiting disease, the risk benefit analysis can favor alternative medicine. i accept that real homeopathy COULD work but that because it is far weaker than medical interventions, the number of patients needed to prove small effects might number in the 100s of thousands. See for a summary of how alternative medicine should be used in EBM.

      Ban herbs? Of course not. Just ban the dark arts of manipulative sales lies and make the perpetrators of those lies accountable for the consequences.

  2. It seems to me you’ve ignored an important ethical question here.

    You are correct in pointing out that homeopathy is an elaborate placebo treatment but incorrect in saying there is no demonstrable medical effect from it. In fact placebos have a very distinct and demonstrable medical effect.

    So while it’s very easy to point at cases like these in which a safe and effective allopathic treatment exists, should we be in the business of debunking homeopathy in general given that it’s placebo effect is more likely to benefit those who believe it works?

    There are many conditions for which effective allopathic treatment does not exist. If some people are finding relief from placebos should we be sabotaging their treatments by rubbishing them?

    It’s also true that some allopathic medicines are essentially placebos. For example ‘successful’ antidepressant trials only show a few percentage points difference in response between the placebo and active arms so it is safe to say that positive results from antidepressants are mostly due to the placebo effect (as well as the ‘law of thirds’).

    I strongly agree that pharmacies should not be in the business of selling medicines that cannot be demonstrated to be better than a placebo. They are the primary suppliers of prescription medicines and that gives them an air of scientific legitimacy. Selling ‘non-scientific’ treatments is a betrayal of the trust the public, rightly or wrongly, puts in pharmacists.

    But should we be trying to debunk non-toxic quackery or just emphasising when there are more effective alternatives?

  3. You don’t indicate that over 5mil people die per year of strep and that a deadlier form of Strep A is making the rounds – indeed, that’s what killed Jim Henson in a matter of days despite massive doses of antibiotics. I’m not a crusader for homepathy – although I’m not opposed to it, either. However, you undermine your position by excluding relevant facts.

    • Are you suggesting the child was going to die anyway? Group A streptococcus infections require antibiotics, because they can progress into invasive infections that are invariably fatal without medical treatment.

      • Scott,
        Are you implying by your comment that you know this child would have lived had the mother gone to a doctor and been given antibiotics?

        You don’t.

        The previous commenter took issue with the fact that relevant information was missing in the article that shows those who do seek medical treatment have been known to also die of Strep A.

        The message is simple: Antibiotics don’t have anything close to a 100% success rate with Strep A. So implying to the contrary is misleading.

        (i.e. That decision likely killed the child, police say… “It was a belief system in homeopathic medicine that contributed to this death,” acting Staff Sgt. Mike Cavilla said. “It should absolutely serve as a warning to other parents. The message is simple: if your child is sick, take them to the doctor.”)

        What about this child?

        Fortunately, there won’t be any charges pressed against anyone in this instance, because there is always an “explanation” when something goes wrong in the medical establishment. (i.e. Dr Young says most patients only require antibiotics to recover but there can be problems for people in ‘high risk’ categories such as the elderly or chronically ill.)

        I wonder if this “explanation” will be considered when this mother goes before a judge?

        I doubt it.

        Because everyone knows that if she had taken him to a doctor, he would have been fine…right?

        By all means, “If your child is sick, take them to the doctor.”

        But don’t imply: “If your child is sick and taken to a doctor they will be given antibiotics and will be fine.”

        That’s likely, but not always true.

        And only God knows what this child’s particular outcome would have been.

      • Seatbelts don’t provide 100% protection either, but they’re objectively better than a belief in magic sky fairies. This is a case of failing to provide the “necessaries of life” in that the act of relying on homeopathy was foolish and the outcome of relying on sugar pills instead of medicine for the treatment of GAS was objectively foreseeable.

  4. it is just hooked-up statements. you yourself say that no medicine content in homeopathy pills, but you say it is caused death ! how it is possible? in allopathy if patient do not get well , then patient will go to another doctor or hospital. here also patient mother should have changed the doctor. also just infection for few days patient cannot die. there must be serious health problems for long time. there are so many possibilities. you are only have enmity with homoeopathy and other natural methods , that’s why you are blaming homoeopath and it system. because you have vested, selfish interest in your business.
    so many deaths happens in wrong treatments in your so called proven treatments, you justify it by scientific reasons, but you never make hue and cry because of selfish motives and selfish business interest.
    in this god created world, everything exists, everything has its own rights, simply attacking on any one system only shows your selfish motives.
    please stop this type one sided version.

    • I always find it amusing when people refer to articles like this as “one-sided” . In something as clear-cut as this there is only one side, that which has been proven by science.

    • No, the article says that by not seeking genuine medical care, the mother is at fault.

      So your statement, “you yourself say that no medicine content in homeopathy pills, but you say it is caused death ! ” implies you have misread or misrepresented the article.

      I’m guessing you read Natural News a lot…

  5. “It was a belief system in homeopathy that led to this child’s death”

    Not sure about that.

    It seemed like general disdain for the conventional medical profession was more at fault, as she had never taken her son to the doctor once over his entire life. I’m a student of naturopathic medicine, and it is STRONGLY emphasized to collaborate and refer to other practitioners during our program, and from what I have heard, homeopathic colleges are also training their students in primary care. I would imagine that if the boy was receiving treatment by a homeopathic doctor or a naturopathic doctor, at the very least a rapid strep test SHOULD have been performed at the sign of symptom onset.

    The belief of many adults that they have the wherewithal to make medical decisions instead of sending themselves or their loved ones to their GP or the ER could be at fault here as well. In the age of access to information at all times, we all become diagnosticians and clinicians, and think we can handle ourselves well. For health promotion and disease prevention- sure, go for it; but not for treating conditions that are (in this case) quite abnormal, and not the standard cold/flu.

    Would this article have been written if the same situation had come up, except the substance that was given to the child was an OTC medication ( but still not an antibiotic)? Probably not, and that situation probably occurs a heck of a lot more frequently than situations such as this that involve “holistic” treatments.

    These “holistic” treatments are (largely) only problematic when they are used instead of proven therapies (drugs, counseling, nutrition, exercise) that have the same or better clinical efficacy, or if they are used without the supervision of a doctor ( MD or ND) that can monitor for side effects and the progression of symptoms during treatment.

  6. I would like to know how many people die despite being given Allopathic medicines for various diseases? How come nobody blames the whole field of Allopathy for that? Totally a ridiculous article.

  7. I was sent a link to your article as a personal attack against my homeopathic practice, which opened a big can of worms in our peaceful mountain town. Thanks for encouraging greater awareness and hopefully inciting more research and education – dialogue and collaboration are so important. There is no such thing as a perfect medicine, or perfect parents, but if we can work together with pure intentions to do no harm, and to help when and where we can, we will all benefit.
    Here is my response to my wonderful community, I hope that it inspires you to reconsider your stance…
    Hi Mamas, re: The Science Based Pharmacy link that was posted

    Thank you, Craig, for posting the link. I think it is important for all parents to be aware of all the perspectives and resources available to help us raise the healthiest and happiest children we can. The more openly we can dialogue about health issues the better we can take care of our kids.

    First, I am not an MD, and I make a point of deferring to conventional medicine, ESPECIALLY when it comes to children. I encourage everyone who contacts me about treating their children to consult with their pediatrician first. I am always happy to collaborate with other health professionals in the best interest of the client. I have training as a First Responder, in addition to Homeopathy, Herbalism, Wilderness Medicine, Nutrition and Kinesiology. I am passionate about preventative medicine, and pursuing courses in Nursing.

    Second, I use herbs nutritionally and homeopathics to support overall well being. I began studying Homeopathy in 2008 when I was given a remedy that worked, where conventional treatment had not. Since then I have witnessed the amazing healing that is possible with homeopathy again and again. Homeopathic remedies are regulated by the FDA; Homeopathic hospitals are the mainstay of health care in India, France and Greece; Homeopathic medicine is practiced in tandem by MDs in conventional hospitals everywhere in the world – except in the US. In my practice I do not claim to prevent, diagnose, or treat any condition, illness or disease. For simple things like the common cold or flu, for recurring and non-life threatening skin conditions, and for things like difficult concentration, lethargy, weight gain or loss, gout and arthritis, allergies, and certain lung conditions, or to achieve a greater sense of health – I have successfully used herbs and homeopathic remedies to help restore well being in my clients.

    Third, it must be acknowledged that conventional medicine is so important for our standard of living, and has developed proven, life saving therapies. I see no contradiction in using every available resource in the pursuit of health and well being. More resources means more options means more opportunities to find a practitioner or a therapy or modality that works for each individual. That is basically the model of holistic healing in a nutshell.

    Finally: As passionate as I am about preventative and holistic medicine, conventional medicine is absolutely appropriate and a vital partner in taking care of our kids. My own son was born with a congenital disease that required surgery when he was only two days old. Common complications relating to his condition unfortunately require multiple trips to the ER, and many, many, courses of antibiotics…and he’s only five months old. As heartbreaking as it is for me as a mother, I know that without conventional intervention, without the training and support of his many many doctors and surgeons at Denver Children’s, and without the close care and attention of the nurses and pediatricians that he sees on a regular basis, he would not be with us in this world. I use homeopathics to help with painful teething, and use acupressure and massage to help ‘manage’ his condition…but when his temperature gets up to 101…I’m on the phone with the hospital and calling an ambulance. You just don’t mess around with sick kiddos, they are sooo fragile and when they are sick they get better or worse FAST, you are taking their temperature every fifteen minutes, you are measuring the ounces of food, you are writing everything down and on the phone with your doctor. I have never and will never advocate Homeopathy or Herbs IN PLACE of conventional medicine, I believe they should work together. Antibiotics ARE abused in this culture, but there are absolutely cases where antibiotics are life-saving – I know this from my own experience.

    So…(sorry for the novella, brevity is not my forte!) I encourage all parents to be as knowledgeable and as empowered as possible about their kiddos and about the resources that are available to them to keep their kids healthy and safe. Parents are the #1 experts on their kids…trust your instincts and don’t wait to seek professional medical help.

    We are truly blessed to live in a community with many talented and caring healers – there is a wonderful diversity of acupuncturists, herbalists, kinesiologists, chiropractors, osteopaths, homeopaths and massage therapists, not to mention some highly recommended Naturopathic Doctors and midwives – all with busy, successful practices. We are also fortunate to have Dr. Camarata and Simpson Dentistry, to have the Nederland Fire Protection District, volunteers and staff alike, to have Boulder Community Hospital 20 minutes away, and Denver Children’s Hospital which is one of the best hospitals in the country. Their commitment to our community makes us stronger, smarter and healthier, and we can only benefit from their experience, and availability to help us in our times of need.

    If any mamas or papas would like to continue this conversation, or have questions, comments or concerns please feel free to e-mail me directly:


    Thank you. Sincerely, Arwen Greer

    • // Homeopathic hospitals are the mainstay of health care in India, France and Greece //

      That is not true for the latter two. Homeopathy has popularity in France, but your statement suggests it is the principal form of healthcare, which is untrue.

  8. Analyses of homeopathic “medicine” have shown, undeniably, that they do not contain any quantity of effective ingredients, not one, ever.
    The very idea that water has a memory is laughable. The idea that water would remember helpful ingredients but not remember the e.coli it came into contact with during its travels is ridiculous. Water has no more memory than my stapler. Water is not sentient. It does not have any physiological or mental capacities.

    Let me put it in another way. A tea company sells you empty tea bags. They tell you that due to a special process that scientists cannot understand, the tea bags forget the chemicals used during their manufacturing process but remember the nutrients and antioxidants from tea leaves the bags came into contact with. The bags are then washed 100 times to strengthen the tea properties. So now you put one in your cup and add water. No smell, no color and no taste. Do you still believe the tea company’s claims that the water is now full of “tea” and is really good for you? If you say yes then homeopathic treatment is right for you.

    Homeopathic “medicine” equals nothing therefore giving it to someone equals doing nothing. Someone who does not provide medical treatment to save the life of a child that is in their care equals manslaughter and they should be punished to the maximum extent of the law. Believing in homeopathic “magic” is no excuse.

      • Funny, it’s it, that Montagnier was pushing his own system that had “parallels” with Homeopathy?

        You might want to find some more recent material. He has been unable to repeat the experiment, stating that he “cannot extrapolate it to the products used in homeopathy.”

    • I agree that homeopathy is absolute nonsense. Not because the theory is crap – aspirin will still work even if your theory is that it contains little fairies that massage away your inflammation – but because clinical trials have repeatedly demonstrated it is no better than a placebo.

      But your similes aren’t valid.

      The RAM chips in my computer are not sentient but they contain memory. In fact you could say that pretty much everything has a memory in that it is influenced in some way by everything else it comes into contact with (e.g. growth rings in trees and isotopes in ice cores are both a kind of memory).

      Virus particles are not sentient but their RNA contains memory of how to reproduce them in such a way as that, under the right conditions, an infinitesimal amount can copy them up to a quantity that will have a very strong ‘therapeutic’ effect.

      I can see no way that water, either in its molecules or as a substance, could possibly retain a memory of other substances that were once dissolved or suspended in it but that does not mean such a thing is not possible. It is just that there is no evidence whatsoever that it does.

  9. Thanks for this blog post; it’s so true and homeopathic/naturopathic use is extremely prevalent here in Vancouver. I hope you don’t mind if I reblog!

  10. Reblogged this on a little leaway and commented:
    This is so true, and parents should be aware that reliance on homeopathic and naturopathic products can be dangerous. I think this issue is important enough to reblog, so here it is.

  11. Your headline is totally misleading and in fact, illogical based on the circumstances of the case.

    The issue here is not a herbal remedy or homeopathic remedy causing death but the fact that someone was not aware enough or bright enough to bring their child to a medical doctor. Avoidance of medical doctors is really the problem- for whatever reason. Most practitioners of homeopathy refer their patients to medical doctors or are medical doctors themselves- so seeing a homeopath or homeopathy per se is not the problem.

    And are you suggesting that all over the counter medicines should be banned? If someone treats their child for a cough with an over the counter medication without seeing an MD but the child actually has pneumonia (which happens) does this mean all over the counter medications are terrible and the cause of pneumonia and death? As well, the leading cause of liver failure in children both prescribed and over the counter is tylenol. Should it be banned?

    Some very illogical conclusions here which verge on emotional hysteria.

    • This is an impressive straw man you’ve constructed. At issue is the continued propagation of the belief system of homeopathy that is enabled at both the provincial and federal level. Pointing out that the issue is avoidance of physicians is akin to blaming gravity when a skydiver is given a fake parachute.

  12. Have to agree with Rightside. Pharmaceutical Science, you have probably come to the most egregious conclusion that I have seen on wordpress. Ergo, a mother does not take her child to see a doctor, the child dies and whatever is found in the house that you don’t like, you, (you meaning an anti-alternative health conservative newspaper, a conservative pharmacist) blame.

    They only found herbal remedies in the house- that is all. Nothing else was really reported except the mother refused to bring her child to a medical doctor.

    So if they only found tylenol in the house what would you do? Probably nothing. Nadda. Probably no hysterical post against homeopathy and no slandering of professional homeopaths would have appeared.

    • Except for this:

      “It was a belief system in homeopathic medicine that contributed to this death,” acting Staff Sgt. Mike Cavilla said. “It should absolutely serve as a warning to other parents.”

      • Kinda desperate when you have to quote the unsupported statements of a cop to prop up your medical theory ain’t it?

        This reminds me a bit of an Australian case five or six years ago when a disturbed young lady stabbed her parents to death and seriously injured her brother during a psychotic episode. The family were Scientologists and various usual suspects from the psychiatric community immediately blamed the religiously based anti-psychiatry convictions of the victims and the media took it up with several days of anti-Scientology articles featuring ‘told-you-so’ quotes from shrinks saying that if only they had followed proper psychiatric advice it would never have happened.

        Problem was it was known right from the start the family had put aside their beliefs, had sought conventional psychiatric advice and that the woman had been on antipsychotic medication for over three months when the killings happened. Even after she had been six months in a prison hospital receiving round the clock treatment she was still too disturbed to enter a plea. Nonetheless the media and medical community claims that it was all L Ron Hubbard’s fault and the shrinks would have saved everyone had they been allowed to continued. The coverage of the funeral was particularly appalling for it’s victim blaming.

        And BTW, I’m pretty much in the camp of critical psychiatry, but I still think Scientology is pernicious nonsense. In fact I think one of the reasons Scientologists and psychiatrists clash so much is because they are both using pseudoscience to fight over the same turf.

  13. Quoting a police Sgt as a medical expert for rebuttal. Hats off to you. Fuel for you.

    Yet going on his statement, a “belief system” is far from the reality of a homeopathic remedy causing the death as if it was a poisoning, as you luringly imply in your headline and hysterically imply in your post.

    A belief system in not seeing a medical doctor for serious problems contributed to this death rather than what was found in the house.

    The SENSIBLE use of homeopathic remedies does not cause death. Just as, I’m sure you will agree, the SENSIBLE use of over the counter medications does not cause death even though there are many deaths DIRECTLY related to poisonings from cough syrup and other over the counter medications.

    I will reiterate: a good professional homeopath refers his or her patients to medical doctors and there are many homeopaths who are scientifically trained medical doctors themselves.

    • You’re perpetuating the idea that homeopathy is something that can be distinguished between “good” and bad” practice. There are no “good” and “bad” homeopaths just like there are no “good” and “bad” unicorns. Homeopathy isn’t a therapeutic practice, it’s the illusion of of doing something when you’re actually doing nothing.

  14. Anfotunatly, how many children dies everyday using the convencional medicine??? So, who we can blame? The mother, the doctor… There are facts that homeopathy medicines are working, science evidences, all you are trying to proof here is just your limited knowlеdge. So do not be so offencive for something you are not sure. You whant to say that WHO is stupid to permits the use of homeopathic remedies. I my self have a expirience where conv. med did not worked for me amd homeopaty did. So? And what about all the autism in the world and we all know where it came from… what about all the demages made from the conv. med. And if you did not know HOMEOPATHY IS A SCIENCE BASED AND THE FISICALS AND NATURALS LOWS. THAT MEENS IT IS NOT A THEORY OR AS YOU SAY ILLUSION. AND IF YOU DID NOT KNOW AVERY SCIENCE MAUST BE BASED ON THE LOWS WHITS ARE NOT CHANGEBLE. So my advice is when you whant to say something first study it whel.

    • offencive? FISICALS?
      whant? MEENS?
      expirience? MAUST?
      homeopaty? WHITS?
      demages? CHANGEBLE?

      Perhaps I should comment in language that you can understand : Mi advis is that u study Englij whel b4 u coment on otha peepls inteligents

  15. What a tragic story. This just highlights the utmost importance of relying on modern medicine instead of ineffective therapies.

    The homeopathy apologists who commented here have to understand the issue: using unproven products for their self-limiting condition is one thing, but caretakers forgoing medical care for their dependant’s potentially debilitating or deadly condition is a completely different and serious thing.

    While it is true that all the facts are not out yet, if the police are accusing the parent in criminal court, it is reasonable to say that the yet undisclosed facts are damning enough that the Crown thinks it has a winable case and justice can be served. Furthermore, It is not Scott who’s accusing the parent of a criminal offense – it’s the police and Crown prosecutors. People who are objecting to Scott’s post are, by extension, objecting to the work made by police. Uncool.

    • While it is true that all the facts are not out yet, if the police are accusing the parent in criminal court, it is reasonable to say that the yet undisclosed facts are damning enough that the Crown thinks it has a winable case and justice can be served.

      On the contrary.

      Making unsupportable and prejudicial statements to the press (e.g. ““It was a belief system in homeopathic medicine that contributed to this death”) is a good sign that the police case is weak and they are trying to win the case in the media before it even gets to court.

      And those who put blind faith in the ‘undisclosed facts’ of authorities are complicit in far worse abuses than can ever be leveled at alternative therapists (e.g. the Iraq war).

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