Editor’s blog Tuesday 15 June 2010: Sense on homeopathy
I'm not wildly bothered about homeopathy - or magic medicine, as its opponents term it. If water had a memory, it would be thoroughly reluctant to come out of the tap and pass through our bodies again. (Yes, I do live in London.)
I've only been offered it once - ironically, in medicines-mad France, when I was looking for a product for a teething daughter.
I'm fascinated by the level of ire that homeopathy provokes in some ultra-rationalists, and specifically about its prescription on the NHS. I fully understand the intellectual opposition, but a) the NHS wastes money on a lot of equally stupid things that don't have a solid evidence base; and b) its cost is very low.
So I really welcomed this piece in The Independent by Professor Edzard Ernst, one of the chief 'homeophobes'. It emphasises the important role of the homeopath in healing - undeniable if you accept that the homeopathic medicine does not and cannot work.
Healing is probably going to be an unattractive concept to those who oppose the un-science of homeopathy.
But if we define healing as a mixture of emotional intelligence, empathy and active, engaged listening, we may be coming nearer to a shared definition of good medical practice - albeit one for which it would be thoroughly challenging to design a good randomised controlled trial.
More than a few healthcare interventions work little better than placebo. Intellectually honest medics and scientists know this. Ernst is spot-on about the ethical dilemma for practitioners: patients have an absolute and inalienable right to the information about what a clinician recommends that they consume.
The corrolary of this is that patients probably don't have a right to have blind faith in their doctor. Even if Ernst's explanation suggests that blind faith is a key part of the process.
It is a wicked issue that giving a patient clear and full information about the scientific evidence for homeopathy is likely to reduce or remove its effectiveness.
In 1867, Walter Bagehot wrote, "the monarchy's mystery is its life. We must not let in daylight upon magic." Ethically, the same should not be argued for royally-beloved homeopathy.