Jul 09 2008

Quackery Down Under

Published by under Uncategorized
Comments: 7

According to news reports a 36 year old Australian woman allegedly died after being treated with ozone therapy for her pancreatic cancer. The practitioner who gave her this bogus treatment is now facing a hearing.

The story is a tragic one and reflects, in my opinion, the erosion of medical ethics that results from tolerating blatantly unscientific therapies, para-professionals, and alternate philosophies of healing. It is impossible to maintain a standard of care without an object basis for evaluating treatments, i.e. science. Also, as Paul Krugman said in another context but one that applies here also, “When the public believes in magic, it’s springtime for the con-artists.”

In this case the woman, out of desperation, sought the ministrations of a practitioners using ozone therapy. This is pure quackery – the claim that ozone (a molecule of three oxygen atoms) has special healing powers because it delivers a boost of oxygen to the tissues.

But the story gets more bizarre. The practitioner apparently had a habit of having his “patients” get undressed so he could photograph them. He also administered his ozone therapy vaginally. If these reports are accurate then this guy is using his quack treatment to lure and then sexually abuse his victims.

To be clear, I am not impugning ozone therapy because this one practitioner also allegedly happened to be a pervert. I am impugning ozone therapy because it is unscientific nonsense. It is actually unfortunate that this specific case is complicated by the sexual allegations. I would have been a better example of the risks and harm of quackery if it were just a case of giving false hope and an ineffective treatment to a desperate patient. It still is that – but the sexual angle is a distraction.

It is also true that pancreatic cancer is almost alway terminal and remains one of the cancers that is not effectively treated by mainstream medicine. In all likelihood this patient would have died within a year in any case. That does not excuse using a fraudulent treatment, however. First, it is likely that the young woman died more quickly because of complications of the treatment. Also, she was robbed of what life she had left and of proper palliative care.

Further, there are many cases where false hope lured patients away from very treatable cancers with high cure rates. (David Gorski relates a case over at science-based medicine.)

While this is a complex case, at its core is the tolerance of fraudulent and unscientific treatments.

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Quackery Down Under”

  1. theoon 09 Jul 2008 at 10:40 am

    A little OT, but on pseudoscience down under, we’ve just seen our first episode of “The One” – the search for Australia’s Top Psychic. Click on my name to see my take on it and an advert for it. Not good, to say the least (the show that is, not my post about it…).

  2. theoon 09 Jul 2008 at 10:50 am

    How’s this for unconscious irony (from the article you linked to):

    Meanwhile, the Australian Traditional Medicine Society told the committee it would like to see all bogus doctors “named and shamed”.

    ATMS policy adviser Raymond Khoury said quackery was an “insidious social problem”…

    He’s in the position to know…

    The poor woman should have just stuck with OXYGEN4LIFE water. This is from The CHOICE 2006 Shonky Awards:

    Feeling tired? Run down? Flat? Then you could drink 10ml of this product’s “bio-available oxygen” once or twice a day and “keep your body topped up with oxygen” for “enhanced quality of life”. Or you could breathe — which is widely regarded as the platinum standard for oxygenating your blood. And it’s much cheaper too: the 250ml of de-ionised water, Atlantic sea salt and “bio-available oxygen” that make up OXYGEN4LIFE cost us $55.

    Link for that: http://www.choice.com.au/viewArticle.aspx?id=105458&catId=100285&tid=100008&p=1&title=The+CHOICE+2006+Shonky+Awards#oxygen

  3. jonny_ehon 09 Jul 2008 at 11:05 am

    Without knowing more about this victim’s case, it’s hard to be sure that her cancer was terminal. I’ve heard that a very small fraction of pancreatic cancer cases are curable, such as with Steve Jobs. Interestingly, a few years ago Steve Jobs was considering forgoing scientific treatment in favour of CAM. How tragic would that have been if his friends didn’t talk him out of it?

  4. Yooon 09 Jul 2008 at 11:12 am

    If the use of an alternative treatment doesn’t suck out the wealth out of a person and doesn’t replace the use of valid medical treatments, then I don’t really mind people using them. I consider it more like decorating a house; you know it doesn’t really serve any function but you do it just because you like it.

    The problem is that all too often alternative treatments do suck out a person’s or a family’s wealth with no gain at all, sometimes even edging out medical treatment for easily treatable diseases. And of course, people who prefer to use harmless alternative treatments tend to be the sort who go for alternative treatments even when they really shouldn’t.

  5. DevilsAdvocateon 09 Jul 2008 at 3:13 pm

    In many cases, opting for ‘alternative’ therapies is a political application to a medical problem.

  6. Roy Nileson 09 Jul 2008 at 5:35 pm

    I would have liked Yoo’s comment except for one serious caveat: The customers who use these services for fun, as it were, are also the ones that keep these quacks in business so that serious harm can, will, and has been inflicted on a multitude of the more gullible.

    The initial post here about the tolerance of such should have made that obvious.

  7. tooth fairyon 13 Jul 2008 at 10:51 pm

    Hey Theo, i’m down under too and i loved the stuff on the one-i was at my girlfriends place and her whole family was saying to me “how do you explain that then?” and for each one i had a rational explanation, but i was told to “get over myself” it just made it even clearer to me that people love nonsense and are fasinated by things that can turn their life from uninteresting and lack of passion into a beautiful mystical dream where water cures everything.

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