Friday, August 27, 2010

Alternative Medicine: Natural, Gentle, Holistic, Bullshit (2)

David Pelham cover illustration for A Cure for Cancer by Michael Moorcock

Australian Doctor discusses again in "The Price of Faith" the case of Penelope Dingle's fatal encounter with alternative cures.

Her homeopath, Francine Scrayen, holds a diploma from the Oceanic Institute of Classical Homeopathy (which seems to exist in a post box), as well as a "postgraduate diploma" from Belgium. Proper notekeeping, and medical diagnosis, appear to be subjects not covered in her extensive studies.

(She) duly documents the symptoms in her notes, described by the Coroner's report as both voluminous and detailed, albeit light on details about treatment she actually provided.

EoR wonders how you can detail a treatment that contains nothing?

After a whole year of rectal bleeding, Ms Scrayen notes "perhaps see a doctor". Nonetheless, Ms Dingle decided to forego conventional treatment, which would leave her infertile, and continue with alternative treatment.

During the inquest, Mrs Scrayen denied she had any influence over this decision. She denied telling Mrs Dingle she could cure cancer through homeopathy or treat the cancer without the need for medical treatment.

The Coroner rejected these denials, saying she regarded Mrs Scrayen as "not a witness of truth".

At this time, Mrs Dingle and her husband effectively shut down all contact with the conventional medical world, apart from two doctors EoR has already commented on.

This course of events left Mrs Scrayen in charge of Mrs Dingle's cancer treatment. Despite Mrs Scrayen's detailed notes, there are few clues as to what her homeopathic cure involved. But, according to the Coroner's report, one condition of the treatment was that Mrs Dingle should not accept mainstream pain relief. Mrs Dingle, apparently on the advice of Mrs Scrayen, believed it would affect the efficacy of the homeopathic remedies.

There's that old chestnut about how fragile homeopathic remedies are (which is always a good way to explain why they don't work). Light, perfume, bad thoughts, conventional medicines. They all destroy the wonderful magic spirit angels so easily.

There were claims that Mrs Dingle spent nights screaming in pain and, as a result, was on the phone to her homeopath dozens of times a day for help. She was sometimes told that the pain was "between her ears".

No, the pain was the hopelessly inadequate and unqualified person who had offered her a miracle.

"Well, sometimes it was pain and sometimes — well, the majority of it would be to check whether the remedy was doing something or not... Sometimes it was, but it didn't hold. That's what I kept on saying to her. The remedy works, but it doesn't hold; the remedy works, but it doesn't hold."

Mrs Scrayen then institued another traditional therapy, something she had heard a childhood nurse mention, and suggested Mrs Dingle "insert plugs of Velvet soap in her rectum so she could push through 'the blockage'."

When nurses finally visited Mrs Dingle at her home she was emaciated, weighed around 35kg, in great pain and with a grossly distended abdomen. She refused analgesics "after consulting with her husband." Finally, she was transferred to hospital. Before she had turned away from conventional treatment, she had been told her cancer was treatable. Now her cervix, uterus, ovaries, bowel from the pelvis and fallopian tubes had to be removed surgically. She died in August 2005.

The Coroner said Mrs Dingle was surrounded by "misinformation and poor science", including from her husband, Dr Dingle, a man with no medical qualifications who contributed to decisions about her care.

Homeopathy is accused of being stuck in the medical beliefs of two hundred years ago (which, apart from adopting various buzzwords into meaningless discourse, such as 'quantum entanglement', it is) but this idea that suffering must not only be endured, but is somehow good for you reaches even further back.

Another value found within religious pain is that of relief of guilt or pre-emptive payment for sins done wrong, which falls with the aforementioned juridical model. Many psychoanalysts, including Freud, share a similar perspective towards pain usage. This is often the reason found within the motivations of Christian saints and martyrs. In some instances, punishing the body can be viewed as a way for the person to “pay” for their committed sins, serving to both relieve guilt and anxiety towards the justice they believe will be served at death. Obviously, this can hold a positive psychological value to the person who chooses to inflict pain on themselves for this reason.

Tanveer Ahmed notes that alternative therapies fit perfectly into the worldviews of those who are not 'religious' but are, instead 'spiritual':

Alternative therapies are not confined by the limits of testable knowledge, making their potential power of explanation enormous, and leaving patients thinking their troubles have real spiritual significance.

For example, a naturopath will diagnose problems with a mix of genuine biological and physiological terminology, adopting a sense of medical authority. But the problems will be addressed with questionable, untested treatments such as homeopathy or herbal products.

Patients are left reassured they are not dealing with a quack, but retain a link with nature and the spirit. They are told their condition is unique to them and the power to heal exists inside their own bodies.

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