The Plain Truth

The Plain Truth
God's Hand Behind the News

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Alternative medicine remains an ethics-free zone

The level of misinformation about alternative medicine has reached the point where it is endangering patients

A man undergoing acupuncture
The World Health Organisation has claimed acupuncture is a 'proven therapy' for a range of conditions, but the evidence shows the opposite. Photograph: AP

Many people think medical ethics is a dry and boring subject mainly for the ivory towers of academia. Nothing could be further from the truth. One of the foremost aims of medical ethics is to make sure that people receive treatments that demonstrably do more good than harm, so it directly relates to the health and wellbeing of all of us.

In conventional medicine, numerous safeguards are in place to make sure doctors adhere to generally accepted ethical standards. In alternative medicine, however, medical ethics has largely remained a blind spot.

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.

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