Tuesday, June 22, 2010

H is for Homeopathy and Hocus-Pocus

Some excerpts from the Australian Homeopathy Association Code of Conduct:

1.5 Members shall refrain from employing, offering or undertaking work or advice beyond their professional competence.
2.4 Patients whose state of health is deteriorating shall not be attended indefinitely without the member in charge suggesting or insisting upon a consultation with at least one other practitioner to confirm the assessment and treatment.
2.7 Where there is evidence of a problem or a condition with which the member is not competent to deal, it is essential that this be made clear to the patient and that the patient is referred to an appropriate practitioner.
2.9 In announcing homœopathic services, members shall state no more than the place and time of their practice, their qualifications and the services they are offering. The information contained in such announcements shall be factual and explanatory, not in the form of emotionally persuasive advertising, not claiming superior competency or implying cure of any named disease and not offering guarantees of a particular outcome as an inducement.

EoR is confused, and wonders how claiming to cure cancer, depression and autism does not contravene these points.

The Code provides a longwinded method to process complaints, but EoR also wonders how any complaint can also be reconciled with the following point:

3.1 Members shall not criticise the skill and judgement of any practitioner, nor make any remark or statement that may undermine the patient’s confidence in that practitioner.

EoR doesn't, however, have to wonder how this might be relevant to the current Coronial Inquiry into the death of Penelope Dingle since, even before the Inquiry has handed down its findings, the Australian Homeopathic Association is already shoring up its defenses (since the filename includes 'Bingle' EoR doesn't know whether this is an editorial comment, or the AHA just can't get any of its facts right):

The AHA is not privy to the full details of the case. However, it would appear that the coronial inquiry is about the management of the case by the husband and the practitioner, not the efficacy of homeopathy. The AHA takes this matter very seriously and awaits the outcome of the inquiry to understand the nature of the allegations made.

Homeopathy is a complementary medicine. It can be used in conjunction with mainstream medicine and other modalities. It is against the Code of Conduct for Homeopaths to claim that they can cure or treat cancer. However, homeopathic medicines can be used to support and help to relieve symptoms in cancer patients, in conjunction with other treatments. An integrated health care approach is the most appropriate in cases of severe pathology.

People seeking homeopathic services should ensure that the practitioner is registered with the Australian Register of Homeopaths. AROH registered practitioners meet the government endorsed competency standards and are bound by Codes of Conduct. These codes state that practitioners need to refer on or seek a second opinion if the case is not responding to treatment.

Empty words indeed, when the WA President of the Australian Homeopathic Association claims homeopathy can cure "everything" including cancer. The efficacy of homeopathy is, indeed, in question, since it was the failure of homeopathy that led to Penelope Dingle's death. Or do the AHA believe homeopathy cured her cancer even though she died?

It seems to EoR that the AHA Press Release is basically saying that homeopathy can't cure anything, doesn't work, and if you're going to use it, make sure you use it with real medicine (because that's the bit that might cure you — unlike homeopathy, real medicine doesn't actually claim to cure "everything" everytime).

A complaint to the Therapeutic Goods Administration would also seem to be pointless. While not a toothless tiger, the TGA continues to keep its mouth firmly closed, purring softly occasionally when disturbed by someone lodging a complaint before returning to its gentle dozing state.

STEVE CANNANE: Dr Ken Harvey made a complaint against Homeopathy Plus! to the Complaints Resolution Panel. They review potential breaches of the advertising code in relation to therapeutic goods.

DR KEN HARVEY: The complaint resolution panel agreed there was a breach of at least nine sections of the Code and one sections of the Therapeutic Goods Act, including very serious sections such as promoting to the general public the treatment of serious diseases for which there was no evidence of efficacy.

STEVE CANNANE: The Complaints Resolution Panel asked Fran Sheffield to remove the claims about immunisation, and to publish a retraction which included the statement:

(Excerpt from Complaints Resolution Panel request)
VOICEOVER: We did not provide adequate evidence to support the claims made in the advertisement, and the Panel found that the claims were unlawful, misleading, and unverified and breached the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code.

STEVE CANNANE: But Fran Sheffield has refused to publish the retraction. She says she wasn't advertising - merely providing information, and sufficient evidence to back up claims about homeopathic immunisation.


STEVE CANNANE: Fran Sheffield is not alone. In 2009 a third of those found to breach the code failed to comply with the panel's recommendations.

If a failure to comply is reported to the panel, it goes back to the Therapeutic Goods Administration or TGA. But what happens next is a mystery. The TGA does not publicise what action it takes.


STEVE CANNANE: But in the meantime, practitioners are able to continue to make questionable claims about various remedies without fear of sanctions.

A recent Homeopathy Plus! email alert was headed "Homeopathy as Good as Chemotherapy for breast cancer."


  1. I was looking at the code of conduct this afternoon with a view to comparing it to the inquest story so far. I only had a cursory look but can you tell me, did you find anywhere in it that states members must not claim to treat anything? I didn't.

  2. As far as I can see they are only prohibited from treating beyond their (presumably) self-perceived competence. So if they can treat cancer, they can claim to treat cancer, it seems. They would, of course, still be breach TGA legislation. Just not Homeopathic Conduct Codes.

  3. Yes, that's all I saw too. You don't even need to be able to treat it - you only need to believe you can. But it does bring into question the national president's claim that it is specifically against the code to make such claims (unless she's willing to state publicly that homeopathy is useless for the treatment of cancer no matter what any other practitioner might think).

    TGA legislation, as I understand it, only relates to published claims. The ACCC would seem to have a little more power though, obviously, they don't exercise it widely.

    My searches so far suggest that we don't have a national Cancer act explicitly outlawing claims to treat or cure it.


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