One of the things I like about having blogged continuously for so many years are times when I’ve written about something that few, if any, other bloggers have and then, years later, learn of an update to the story. It’s particularly great when these sorts of stories occur overseas and hardly punctured the consciousness of the English-speaking world, giving me the opportunity to be the main take on the issue. So it was nearly two years ago that I noticed the #FakeMed hashtag on Twitter and wrote about a public statement by 124 physicians in France calling on the government to stop funding homeopathy and alternative medicine. Nearly everything written about it was in French, with almost no English sources, even though an English version of the physician’s statement was included on the fake médecine website letting me refresh my skills in the French language while reporting on an important development in Europe that wasn’t getting much coverage in the English-speaking world. Basically, these physicians who signed the fake médecine (FakeMed) statement called for the following actions by the French General Medical Council with respect to alternative medicine and homeopathy:
We urge the French General Medical Council and the French public authorities to make every effort to:
- No longer allow physicians or healthcare professionals to continue to promote these practices using their professional credentials.
- No longer recognise in any way homeopathy, mesotherapy or acupuncture diplomas as medical university degrees or qualifications.
- Ensure that Medical Schools or institutes which deliver health trainings, may no longer issue diplomas covering medical practices for which the efficacy was not scientifically demonstrated.
- No longer reimburse health care, medicines or treatments from disciplines which refuse to subject themselves to a rigorous scientific assessment.
- Encourage initiatives aimed at delivering information on the nature of alternative therapies, their deleterious effects, and their real efficacy.
- Require all caregivers to abide to the deontology of their profession, by refusing to deliver useless or ineffective treatments, by offering care in accordance with the recommendations of learned societies and the most recent scientific evidence and by demonstrating pedagogy and honesty towards their patients and offering an empathic listening.
Homeopaths being homeopaths, you can probably guess what the result of this statement was. Many of the French physicians behind fake médecine were threatened with lawsuits, and homeopaths complained about FakeMed, its members, and its President, Dr. Cyril Vidal, to the French medical authorities, known as the Conseil national de l’Ordre des Médecins or simply l’Ordre des Médecins, as described in Le Monde (translated by a combination of Google Translate and myself):
The tension has not decreased among doctors after the publication of a statement signed by more than 120 health professionals on March 19 in Le Figaro against homeopathy and other alternative medicines. Following this text, Le Figaro claims, on Thursday, April 12, trade unions of homeopathic doctors, mesotherapists or accupuncturists have filed a complaint with the Conseil national de l’Ordre des Médecins against 10 of its 124 signatories – five doctors who expressed themselves in the media after the publication of the podium, and five others who signed it.
The statement castigated in particular “practices neither scientific nor ethical, but very irrational and dangerous” and spoke of “fake médecine” (“false medicine”). The signatories asked the Council of the Order, “do not allow doctors or health professionals to use their title who continue to promote” these practices.
The unions criticizes the remarks as “offensive, defamatory and even insulting” and “contrary to the ethical principles of confraternity, consideration of professsion”, reports Le Figaro. They are asking for a “public apology.”
When a complaint is lodged with the l’Ordre des Médecins, the first step is an attempt at conciliation. If the mediation fails, “we will then draw lots of doctors from the list of [the signatories] every fortnight for new complaints,” warns Dr. Meyer Sabbah, the source of the complaint.
Nearly two years later, I’m getting an update on the fake médecine situation. It came in the form of this Tweet:
Which led to this thread:
And this article in a French physicians’ newspaper, Le Généraliste, Trois mois d’interdiction d’exercice avec sursis pour un généraliste signataire de la tribune anti-homéopathie, or Three months suspension of practice for a general practitioner who signed the anti-homeopathy statement. Yes, you read that right. One of the doctors who signed the fake médecine statement had his license to practice medicine suspended for three months because of his involvement with fake médecine. In fact, it was the President of fake médecine, Cyril Vidal.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a French medical license and therefore can’t access the article fully. Fortunately, as you can see in the Tweets above, outraged French doctors provided screenshots that I could translate in full as well as my rusty French, with occasional help from Google Translate, would allow:
While the previous anti-fraternity complaints against the signatories of the statement of March 2018 resulted in a release or a warning, a new step has just been taken in professional sanctions.
According to our information, the Disciplinary Chamber of First Instance (CDPI) of the Regional Council of the Order of Physicians of Ile-de-France suspended the medical license of a general practitioner of Hauts-de-Seine for three months.
This Wednesday, Cyril Vidal, dental surgeon and president of the FakeMed collective had for his part indicated to Le Géneraliste fear of a “temporary suspension of practice for a doctor,” citing” leaks, information which has since been confirmed to us. “This sanction goes way too far for someone who has just cited the code of ethics, the code of public health and the Academy of Medicine!” said an indignant Cyril Vidal.
The head of the association also said that four other Ile-de-France practitioners had received a reprimand for having signed this same statement demanding an end to state reimbursement for homeopathic products. Two other doctors who appeared in mid-December before the Ile-de-France CDPI should know their sanctions shortly. “We can expect different results because there were several juries,” said Cyril Vidal.
A complaint associated with the Hauts-de-Seine Order
In total, seven Ile-de-France doctors appeared before the CDPI in Ile-de-France. One of them was the subject of two complaints, one from the National Union of French Homeopathic Physicians (SNMHF), the other from the Union collégiale, with which the CDOM 92 was associated. It is precisely this doctor who would be prohibited from practicing.
Like their colleagues already sanctioned, practitioners should appeal the decision of the Ile-de-France CDPI and their file would then be transmitted to the disciplinary committee of the Cnom. It should also make its first decisions on similar complaints processed in early 2019) in April 2020.
Fake Med will contact Olivier Véran
Cyril Vidal views this this decision as marred by a conflict of interest because one of the juries of the CDPI of Ile-de-France included a homeopath: “This person should have recused himself, as should. This also applies to homeopaths and unconventional care practices in the councils of the Order in general.”
“Beyond the ongoing litigation procedures, the president of FakeMed would like to meet with Olivier Véran, new Minister of Health, to discuss with him the subject of unconventional medicines. “He seems interested in this subject. We plan to meet with him to get things done, given the inertia of the Order,” he continues.
So, to recap, in 2018 fake médecine issued a very rational, very justifiable public statement condemning homeopathy and other quackery and appealing to the French government to stop paying for homeopathy. The FakeMed statement probably also really got under the skin of the French General Medical Council by specifically having pointed out that the Council is responsible for ensuring that its members “do not use their credentials to promote practices for which science was unable to demonstrate their usefulness or practices which can even be dangerous” and “do not become sales representatives of unscrupulous industries,” adding that General Medical Council still tolerates practices that “are at odds with its own code of ethics” and that “public bodies organise or even contribute to the financing of some of these practices.”
By way of a little background, around the same time, Agnès Buzyn, ministre des Solidarités et de la Santé (Minister of Solidarity and Health), had voiced her support for homeopathy, as mentioned here:
Specifically, she said, “If it continues to be beneficial, without being harmful, it will continue to be reimbursed.” As I said at the time, this was a pretty damned irresponsible thing for any minister of health in any country to say.
However, a little further background is also in order here. The French love homeopathy, possibly even more than the Germans, in whose country homeopathy was thought up, do. Homeopathy is everywhere. The multibillion dollar company Boiron, which is known (and mocked) for selling the homeopathic remedy Oscillococcinum (whose base ingredients include duck liver and heart) as a treatment for influenza, is a French company. At the time, in France homeopathic products could be reimbursed at a rate of 30% (but up to 90% in the Alsace-Moselle region) and also benefited from a preferential regulatory status (not unlike that conferred on supplements in the US by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education act of 1994, a.k.a., the DSHEA) that exempted their manufacturers (like Boiron, a French multibillion dollar company) from having to demonstrate their efficacy before they could be marketed.
Now here’s the thing that really grates. Last summer, less than 16 months after fake médecine published its statement, the French government decided to stop reimbursing patients for homeopathy! This came after a study jointly conducted by l’Académie nationale de pharmacie and l’Académie nationale de médecine concluded in a joint statement:
- “In the current state of our knowledge and the insufficiency of experimental and clinical research, it seems inappropriate to have the faculties of medicine and pharmacy and veterinary schools issuing diplomas or certificates in homeopathy. Such a university title would have the effect of endorsing a therapeutic method that is not accepted or used by most of the body medical. It is, however, up to the therapy teachers to provide students with information on homeopathy, within the framework of their normal teaching.”
- “If these preparations are recognized as medicines, they must be subject to ordinary law which governs the pharmaceutical industry. For those who have not successfully passed the tests demonstrating their efficacy, the labeling must bear the statement: ‘The efficacy of the product has not been demonstrated according to rigorous standards.'”
- “The reimbursement for these products by Social Security appears abberant at a time when, for economic reasons, we are not reimbursing many classic medicines because they are (more or less) considered not to work well enough.”
All of these were the same sorts of things demanded by fake médecine in its public statement, and the French government responded:
The French government has announced it will stop reimbursing patients for homeopathic treatment from 2021 after a major national study concluded the alternative medicine had no proven benefit.
The health minister, Agnès Buzyn, a former doctor who has vowed to place scientific rigour at the heart of policy, said she had made the decision after a damning verdict on homeopathy by the national health authority in June.
Buzyn said the refunds paid by French social security – currently 30% of the treatment – would be phased down to 15% in 2020 and then to zero in 2021.
“I have decided to start the process for complete non-reimbursement,” Buzyn told Le Parisien newspaper.
France’s National Authority for Health (HAS) concluded at the end of June that there was no benefit to the medicine, saying it had “not scientifically demonstrated sufficient effectiveness to justify a reimbursement”.
Personally, I’d have been in favor of an immediate defunding of homeopathy, but I suspect politics entered the picture, leading to the phaseout period described in the above article.
Naturally, Boiron was not happy:
French company Boiron, the world leader in homeopathic products, denounced the move as “incomprehensible and incoherent”.
It asked for an urgent meeting with the president, Emmanuel Macron, and said it would “do everything to fight” the decision.
Yes, if you’re a multibillion Euro company, you can get personal audiences with the President or any politician you want. You can also launch astroturf campaigns like “Mon Homéo Mon Choix (My Homeopathy, My Choice),” with the help of various homeopathy associations and organizations.
Fortunately, the process moved forward, and the French government issued regulations last fall phasing out reimbursement of homeopathic remedies and a list of non-reimbursed homeopathic remedies. It’s quite a long list. The regulations took effect on January 1.
So, basically, the French government has come around to agreeing with fake médecine and even deciding to stop paying for homeopathy, just as the signatories to the fake médecine statment demanded. Yet, still the French health authorities temporarily suspended the license of the President of fake médecine for his role in writing and publishing the statement and speaking out publicly against homeopathy for the quackery that it is (The One Quackery To Rule Them All, as I frequently put it). This is not a good look on the part of l’Ordre des Médecines. In fact, by sanctioning any of the members of fake médecine in any way, even reprimands, l’Ordre des Médecines has betrayed science-based medicine. Hell, it’s betrayed all medicine.
Addendum: As pointed out in the comments below, apparently it was not Cyril Vidal who was suspended, but another signatory to the Fake Médecine statement.
It turns out that it was Fake Médecine’s treasurer Dr. Mathieu Van Dessel whose license was suspended: