Alt med still making me sick

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
June 23 2009 7:00 AM

Alt med still making me sick

Last week I wrote about how the British Association of Chiropractors put out a laughable press release about their law suit against Simon Singh, who had the audacity to point out that some of the claims made by the BCA were "bogus".

As dictated by the Streisand Effect -- making a stink about something trivial will itself turn it into big news -- people all over the world are now talking about "alternative medicine" and its unhealthy dose of quackery.

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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That includes my dear friends the skeptics in Australia, who have been relentlessly and heroically pounding the altmed movement Down Under. The latest shot is against the very thing the BCA is talking about: chiropractors inflating their credentials and making claims not at all based on solid evidence. Check out that link, poke around the website, and show Dr. Rachie (a real doctor, folks) your love.

There's more: you may have heard of Daniel Hauser, a young boy who has Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His parents don't "believe" in real medicine and were treating him with nonsense therapies like using herbs and vitamins.

Here's a hint, people: you don't get to choose to not believe in medicine, just like you don't get to choose to not believe in gravity. You can not believe in either all you want, but when the time comes, your belief may kill you.

A judge agrees: he issued a court order to the family to make them have Daniel undergo chemotherapy. And guess what? His tumor is shrinking.

Now, if you're familiar with the zealot-like belief system some people have in altmed, the next bit won't surprise you at all: his family claims that it's not the chemotherapy shrinking the tumor, it's their altmed supplements. Yes, even though for months their "treatment" did no good at all, and after a few sessions of chemo the tumor shrank, of course it was the vitamins that did the trick.

Sigh.

You know what? It would make me sad, but if, as an adult, and after doing due diligence to research a problem, you decide to take vitamins to cure a fatal disease, that's your choice. But when it comes to your kids things are different. You can choose to dress them funny, or give them terrible haircuts, and even choose what religion they will be and how they will be educated. But you don't get to choose to kill them. And when there is evidence -- rock-solid and with thousands of examples -- that your idea of medicine is quackery, and that withholding of real medicine will let your child die, your rights as a parent have been abrogated.

As a parent, that's a hard thing for me to write. You may say, what if the government wants to take your kid away for what you feel is a capricious reason? The difference here, the critical difference, is that this isn't capricious. It's based on solid evidence.

If you decide to sacrifice your child upon an altar to Zeus, or tie them to railroad tracks to cleanse their chi, or set your little girl on fire to purify her of demons, then guess what? The State has a right to step in to protect that child.

The right to swing your beliefs ends at a child's nose. The problem is, far, far too many people think their beliefs are untouchable rights. They're not. And those of us in the reality-based community will continue to pursue this as long as people who aren't based there continue to hurt their kids.

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