Posted by: Edzard Ernst25 August 2012
During recent months the critics of homeopathy have raised their voices repeatedly. Usually they come from doctors or scientists. Now the legal profession seems to join the chorus.
An Australian barrister and professor of law has published an analysis of “a series of criminal, civil, disciplinary and coronial decisions from difference countries in relation to homeopathic medicine where outcomes have been tragic”1. He argues that “there is an urgent need for reflection and response within the health sector generally, consumer protection authorities, and legal policy-makers about the steps that should be taken to provide community protection from dangerous homeopathic practice”1.
Crucially, this lawyer asks whether homeopathy can ever be registered alongside other healthcare professionals. Here is his answer in full:
“Until such time as homoeopathy can scientifically justify its fundamental tenets, which seems inconceivable by measures such as objective peer review, double blind testing and proper replication of processes and outcomes, it cannot be said that its claims for therapeutic efficacy can be justifiable. This leaves the profession not just exposed to criticisms, such as were enunciated in the cases referred to above, but potentially open to consumer protection actions directed toward whether its representations are false, misleading and deceptive, to civil litigation when its promises have not been fulfilled, and especially when persons have died, and to criminal actions in respect of the financial advantage that is obtained by its practitioners from their representations.
The distressing cases referred to here which led to avoidable deaths and the multiple accusations levelled against homoeopathy require of the profession at least a formal repudiation of the practitioners concerned and of those with a similar approach to health care. In addition, they demand an unequivocal response that homoeopathy will discipline its own in a robust and open way. If the profession is to acquire any scientific credibility, which is difficult to conceive of, the deaths to which homoeopathy has contributed, as described in this column, also require that homoeopathy actively generate a defensible research basis that justifies its claims to efficacy of outcome for its patients. It is only then that the claims of the medical establishment that homoeopathy is a dangerous and too often a lethal form of quackery will be able to be contested rationally. In the meantime, it is timely to consider further the status that homoeopathy has within the general and health care communities and whether that status can be scientifically, ethically or legally justified”.
I believe this legal view to be significant. The persistent calls from concerned scientists for sound evidence have hardly been taken seriously. Homeopaths tended to respond by producing unconvincing or cherry-picked data. Perhaps the legal aspects and threats will have more success. The most recent development in this context is a class action lawsuit against the world’s largest manufacturer of homeopathic remedies for making unsubstantiated claims and for selling products which contain nothing2.
I would not be surprised to hear that such examples motivate British consumers to consider similar actions.
(1) Freckelton I. Death by homoeopathy: issues for civil, criminal and coronial law and for health service policy. J Law Med 2012; 19:454-478.
(2) Martel I. Class action lawsuit filed against homeopathy manufacturer Boiron and Shoppers Drug Mart. 2012;www.skepticnorth.com [accessed 16-04/2012].