Homeopathy kills

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
June 5 2009 10:03 AM

Homeopathy kills


[Note: This post may upset some people. It damn sure upset me. If you are easily upset by pediatric medical stories that do not end well, then you might want to skip reading this. The title alone may be all you need to know.]

Homeopathy is the antiscientific belief that infinitely diluted medicine in water can cure various ailments. It's perhaps the most ridiculous of all "alternative" medicines, since it clearly cannot work, does not work, and has been tested repeatedly and shown to be useless.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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And for those who ask, "what's the harm?", you may direct your question to Thomas Sam and his wife Manju Sam, whose nine-month-old daughter died because of their homeopathic beliefs.

The infant girl, Gloria Thomas, died of complications due to eczema. Eczema. This is an easily-treatable skin condition (the treatments don't cure eczema but do manage it), but that treatment was withheld from the baby girl by her parents, who rejected the advice of doctors and instead used homeopathic treatments. The baby's condition got worse, with her skin covered in rashes and open cracks. These cracks let in germs which her tiny body had difficulty fighting off. She became undernourished as she used all her nutrients to fight infections instead of for growth and the other normal body functions of an infant. She was constantly sick and in pain, but her parents stuck with homeopathy. When the baby girl developed an eye infection, her parents finally took her to a hospital, but it was far too late: little Gloria Thomas succumbed to septicemia from the infection.

Thomas and Manju Sam were convicted yesterday of manslaughter in Australian court. As a parent myself I cannot even begin to imagine the pain they are going through, the anguish and the emotional horror. But let us be clear here: their belief in a clearly wrong antiscientific medical practice killed their baby. Homeopathy doesn't work, but because they were raised in an environment that supports belief in homeopathy, they trusted it. They used it, and they rejected real, science-based medicine. And their daughter suffered the consequences.

And suffer she did. The accounts of the pediatricians who tried too late to help little Gloria Thomas are simply harrowing.

Every time I hear about something like this -- a baby dying due to "alternative" medicine, or the lies and disinformation from the antivaccination movement, or some other belief system that flies in the face of reality -- a little bit of me dies as well. I held my daughter shortly after she was born, and I would have done anything to protect her, and that included and still includes protecting her against people who fight so adamantly against reality.

The reality is that the antivaxxers' work will result in babies dying. The reality is that belief in homeopathy will result in more babies dying. The reality is that denying science-based medicine will result in more babies dying.

And I know these words will fall on many deaf ears. And I will guarantee the comments to this post will contain many loud and irrational arguments supporting homeopathy and the antivaxxers. I've seen it before, and I know that many of those people are completely immune to reason and logic. And if you wonder what might wake them up, the answer may very well be nothing. Just read what Gloria Thomas' father -- the man just convicted of the manslaughter of his own daughter -- had to say:

But even after Gloria died, Thomas Sam adhered to his belief that homeopathy was equally valid to conventional medicine for the treatment of eczema.

He told police: "Conventional medicine would have prolonged her life ... with more misery. It's not going to cure her and that's what I strongly believe."

He and his wife face 25 years in jail, where they will have plenty of time to rethink their convictions.