Warning: this page contains a swear-word. Not just a mild one either, a real whopper. I don’t apologise for it, I’m warning you it’s there. I’m generally making a bit of an effort with this blog to not swear too much, not because I disagree with the use of swearage in general, and not because I agree with those people who believe that by swearing you automatically lose the argument. No, I’m generally trying to not swear to avoid unnecessarily putting off my already small readership. However, on this occasion, I think the use of the word is justified. If you don’t agree, you might want to leave this article now. I for one hope you hang in there.
The Agony of False Hope
In a way, all the stuff I’ve been writing on this blog has all been leading up to this point. The reasons why I started this blog, why I was motivated to do this when no other topic had hitherto spurred me into action, are very simple to understand but very difficult to articulate, if you see what I mean.
I’m not writing this for fellow campaigners against WDDTY, though I’m pleased when they read and enjoy it, and glad if it contributes to their discussions. I’m also not writing it for the benefit of the editors of WDDTY, nor for their die-hard converts, who will doubtless not be persuaded no matter what I say. No, I’m writing this for the benefit of any sufferer of any condition who might be tempted to follow any of the advice in WDDTY, or of any alt-med practitioner.
Tesco trust their customers to make informed choices.
However, there’s every indication that the choices made by readers of WDDTY are not informed, and that they are being misled by the content of this magazine. Comments on the WDDTY and Lynne McTaggart Facebook pages demonstrate a complete absence of people saying that they know the magazine is rubbish, and that they are just buying it for a bit of a laugh. Instead the comments show very clearly that their readership believe what they read in the magazine. This is not much of a surprise; you’d expect people to have views broadly in alignment with the publications they read. This would be true whether the magazine was for railway modellers or for runners. When it comes to health advice, though, there are clear risks if the advice given is rubbish, and if there is a likelihood that readers will take it at face value. Is it rubbish? Yes and yes, and this is just the tip of a very manky iceberg. Do readers take it at face value? According to WDDTY themselves, yes they do.
We read your piece and threw away the prescription.
(Incidentally, I worry that the editors of WDDTY published this testimonial, apparently without inquiring into whether the reader was making a wise decision in abandoning their medication or advising them to seek medical advice before doing so, or warning readers along the same lines. We have no idea how serious the condition being medicated was.)
So, readers of WDDTY, it’s not that we don’t trust you to make informed decisions. We’re campaigning here because you’re being misinformed, and we believe you have a right to expect that health information you are given is accurate, just as you’d expect it in any other area. You cannot make informed decisions if the information you are given is wrong. It’s as simple as that.
Many of the criticisms of people campaigning against WDDTY (and alt-med in general) stem from this accusation: who are we to take away hope from people suffering from serious illness? If the sufferer wants it, how could we be so cruel as to take it away? This was a view put forward by pundits on Channel 5′s The Wright Stuff during their discussion of WDDTY on October 1st 2013.
This is an interesting accusation, and a challenging one to answer. I’ve seen some really very eloquent writers stumble to a halt when trying to address it. But I think it stems from the same misunderstanding I outlined above. We don’t want sufferers to be stopped from doing whatever they feel helps them, we simply want them to be able to go into it with all the information they need to make a decision, and knowing the likely effectiveness of any treatment is an important factor.
As far as I am concerned, if you have cancer, for example, and it’s at an advanced stage, you have the right to do whatever you want in order to cope. Go play golf if you want (and can), eat bacon sandwiches, stick candles in your ears, whatever you like. However, if somebody comes along with the claim that bacon sandwiches can cure your cancer, but only the expensive bacon sandwiches they sell, then it’s worthwhile you knowing if there is evidence to support this claim.
By attacking us, you’re attacking patients
This is another common complaint: by attacking the promoters and practitioners of alt-med we are attacking their “patients”. This is not surprising when you think about it. If you are a practitioner of alt-med, and you really believe in what you do, then you are also likely to believe that if you are put out of business then your patients are going to suffer, because they are no longer able to access your treatments. But this does rather assume that your treatments are any good, and that by coming to you patients are not missing out on some other treatment that is as good or better (or cheaper). If, on the other hand, you are a charlatan who is simply fleecing your unlucky patients, you’re still going to claim that attacking you is attacking your patients, as a way of deflecting from your complete lack of morals or substance.
Either way, we’re not attacking patients by criticising alt-med proponents. These patients we’re supposedly attacking are our friends, our relatives, our colleagues, they are us. It would take a very callous person to criticise somebody for doing everything in their power to save their sick relative, or to cling furiously on to life. But charlatans thrive in the communication gap between desperate sufferers and we who want to find a way of telling them they may be making a mistake, but who are constrained by compassion. That’s why this needs to be tackled at source. That’s why we reserve our criticism solely for the people who take advantage of the desperate, the ill, the helpless, by selling them false hope and fake treatments. Because what starts as a seemingly harmless “why not try this remedy for your sore throat?” ends with desperate parents paying $200,000 to a madman in Houston for the privilege of making their child’s last days an agonising torture.
This must stop
We deal with the rogue traders, not their victims. This is completely uncontroversial in any other area, so why should people making false health claims get a free pass?
So, if you work in the alt-med field, I have something to say to you. Maybe you’re the editor of a magazine giving dodgy advice, or you run a clinic in Texas offering unproven treatments to desperate cancer sufferers at fabulous prices. Maybe you sell magic bracelets or you stretch the necks of babies for no adequately explored reason. Whoever you are and whatever you do as a proponent of alt-med, you fit into one of two groups. You either believe in what you are doing, or you don’t. You either think you’re genuinely helping people by promoting or selling treatments that have no evidence of their efficacy, or you know that it’s not helping and you still do it anyway, for the lulz or the profit or maybe both.
If you’re in the first camp, and you genuinely believe in what you’re doing, you’re a deluded, dangerous fool. Please stop it. However, if you know or even suspect that the treatments you promote or sell are nothing more than smoke and mirrors, yet you still promote and sell them anyway, in the process profiting from the unrelieved suffering of the victims you prey on, you’re not simply dangerous. You are a cunt.
There, I said it.