Harmless Homeopathy?

David Laing DawsonBy Dr David Laing Dawson

It is not uncommon for some of my patients to tell me they have seen a homeopath or a naturopath. Sometimes they tell me this a little sheepishly; sometimes they go to homeopaths with the same attitude I have when I’ve been talked into letting someone read my tealeaves. I certainly don’t believe any of it for a second but when my aunt peers intently at the dregs at the bottom of my cup and says that, “soon a little money will be coming your way” I can’t help but feel a twinge of pleasure. Or when someone points out that the life-line on my palm predicts a long and prosperous life. Very nice.

Occasionally when a patient tells me of the homeopathic advice she has been given for her child, I try to assert a little twentieth century knowledge into the discourse, but often I pass. One person told me she had been prescribed lithium by her homeopath, because of an obvious deficiency in this substance, determined by – who knows – the colour of her eyes? I was about to let loose a rant about this when I paused to consider two probabilities:

1. The substance that was prescribed for this woman had a 50% chance of having no lithium in it at all, and,

2. A 50% chance that it had no more lithium than a bowl of vichyssoise. In the end I made no comment on the subject.

Another took her three hyperactive boys to a special homeopathic clinic, where, apparently, they took blood samples and examined them under a microscope. Then the mother was told, and she related this to me, that all three of her children had parasites in their blood causing their ADHD.

An outraged rant about this formed in the back of my head, this ridiculous notion, this proclamation or diagnosis that, if actually true, would constitute a life-threatening emergency. I quelled my outrage in favour of asking what the homeopath had prescribed for her boys. Apparently what he had recommended, for the expunging of these parasites, was a healthy diet, exercise, and sufficient sleep. Again I smiled and let it pass.

But I watched CBC’s marketplace Friday night, and I have several grandchildren. The opening images of the documentary are quite striking: a group of very healthy children playing on Granville Island in Vancouver, and then very healthy mothers with very healthy robust babies. The mothers were not wearing black as they would be if they were mourning the deaths of two out their five children. The children could see and hear and run on two legs and catch with two hands. None of them had suffered through an epidemic of polio, measles, whooping cough, diphtheria, cholera, meningitis, or the bubonic plague. None of them. These diseases were not even part of their consciousness. I tried to imagine the same group of children and mothers in a park during the polio years of the 1950’s, and then the early 1900’s, and again perhaps on the commons of a village in the early 1800’s. The early 1900’s would be the time an uncle-to-be of mine died from diphtheria, the 1950’s when a classmate of mine disappeared from school and into an iron lung at the hospital.

They had homeopathic remedies in those days too, a hundred and two hundred years ago, and they didn’t work then and they don’t work now. The difference in those images, the healthy children and healthy mothers today, vs. the images from a century ago, has been brought to us by medicine and public health: clean water, good nutrition, good prenatal care, antibiotics, and vaccination.

These homeopaths are not just endangering the lives of the children they see as clients, but my grandchildren as well. I actually think a class action lawsuit is in order.

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