Homeopathy kills a child

Homeopathy is water.

Homeopaths will tell you otherwise. They will tell you that water “memory,” which, the way they describe it is some mystical property whereby it “remembers” the remedy with which it’s been in contact, even though the substance (whatever it was) has been diluted far beyond the point where there’s likely to be even one molecule of it left. Not only that, but they will, in all seriousness, tell you that dilution is not enough. They will insist that, at each serial dilution, the remedy must be vigorously shaken (or, as they call it, “succussed”) in order to imbue it with its potency. Finally, they will tell you, without any evidence, that “like cures like,” that giving a highly dilute, serially successed remedy made from the same substance that causes symptoms like the ones being treated will cure those symptoms. In other words, homeopathy is nothing more than sympathetic magic suitable for use by Doctor Strange.

Homeopathy is water.

Homeopathy is also utterly pseudoscientific. It posits the existence of a “memory” of water that no science has detected beyond infinitesimal fragments of a second so brief that there is no plausible physical mechanism by which such “memory” could survive long enough to do anything. In fact, there is no way for such “memory” to survive the transit across the GI tract, much less interact with cell surface receptors or cellular proteins to produce a pharmacological effect. Indeed, the concepts behind homeopathy conflict with so many well-established theories of science that, for homeopathy to be correct, much of what we know about physics, chemistry, and biology would have to be overthrown.

Homeopathy is water, and, when substituted for real medicine, it can kill:

THE parents of a nine-month-old girl who died from septicemia were responsible for their baby’s death because they shunned conventional medical treatment for her eczema in favour of homeopathic remedies, a court heard yesterday.

A homeopath, Thomas Sam, 42, and his wife, Manju Sam, 36, are standing trial in the NSW Supreme Court charged with manslaughter by gross criminal negligence after they allegedly resisted the advice of nurses and a doctor to send her to a skin specialist.

Instead Gloria Thomas, who was born in perfect health in July 2001, allegedly died with malnutrition and eczema so severe that her skin broke every time her parents removed her clothes and nappy.

I must say, I’m surprised. No, I’m not surprised that relying on magic water for treatment, rather than science-based medical treatment can result in a death that could have been prevented. Rather, I’m surprised that the homeopath is actually being prosecuted. I’m surprised, but pleasantly so. True, likely the only reason it’s happening is because the homeopath happened to be the girl’s father, allowing for a child neglect charge. Even so, quacks like Sam should pay a penalty when their quackery results in death or severe injury. They rarely do, which makes this story unusual not for dire consequences of these parents relying on water rather than medicine but rather for the fact that the homeopath is being prosecuted for continuing to sell his quackery, even after the child deteriorated.

And the child’s deterioration was horrific. Gloria suffered more than any child should ever have to suffer:

“The Crown case is that from this point on, for the next five months of her life until her death … Gloria’s eczema played a devastating role in her overall health and it is asserted by the Crown that both her parents knew this and discussed it with each other,” Mr Tedeschi said.

“Over time the eczema caused her skin to become thinner and weaker and the constant breaking of the skin allowed infections to enter her body.”

The end result? Horrors:

Gloria spent a lot of the last five months of her life crying, irritable, scratching and the only thing that gave her solace was to suck on her mother’s breast,” Mr Tedeschi said.

“Towards the end she was sleeping an inordinate amount of time, her body desperately trying to overcome these infections.”

Thomas Sam’s sister allegedly “pleaded” with him to send Gloria to a conventional medical practitioner. He allegedly replied: “I’m not able to do that.”

Like most users of “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM), the Thomases were well educated professionals. Like all too many believers, instead of seeking conventional medical care as their daughter’s health deteriorated, they went to other woo-meisters, other homeopaths, other “natural” medical practitioners. Moreover, the did from time to time seek out the care of a conventional medical practitioner and follow his advice. Each time they did this, Gloria improved. Then they would go right back to the woo. It’s an odd pattern, actually. They would only consider conventional medicine after it was clear to all but the most deluded homeopath that the magic water wasn’t working. They’d use it until the child got somewhat better, and then they’d go straight back to the magic water.

I have a tendency to view homeopathy as being much like a religion. It has its own belief system that was not determined empirically through science but rather was handed down to its followers by a prophet (namely the originator of homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann) and a belief system that its adherents rigidly cling to against all science and reason. It matters not one whit to them that homeopathy is magic. It matters not one whit to them that the larger and more rigorous the clinical trial, the less of an “effect” can be attributed to homeopathy, to the point where the largest and best trials, including meta-analyses, show no effect for homeopathy beyond that of a placebo. Like adherents to a religion, also, they circle the wagons when their religion is attacked. Like the adherents of some religions, the most devoted homeopathy adherents are willing to sacrifice their children on the altar of their magical beliefs.

Which is exactly what the Sams did.