Confessions of a Quackbuster

This blog deals with healthcare consumer protection, and is therefore about quackery, healthfraud, chiropractic, and other forms of so-Called "Alternative" Medicine (sCAM).

Monday, August 29, 2005

Why Charles just can't quit the snake oil

The following article is one of the strongest rebukes I've yet seen.

HRH Charles, "Prince of Quacks", seems hell bent on proving that the heir to the throne may well be one of the biggest a**holes ever to sit in the Albert Hall (*) in modern times. Pity the once great British nation! I can understand their shame at having to follow one who does everything health-related in a bassackwards fashion. The accident of his birth notwithstanding, his ignorance is simply appalling! One gets the clear impression that Liz did not pass on anything slightly resembling common sense to her son.

(*) "Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall." - Lennon

Why Charles just can't quit the snake oil

Catherine Bennett
Thursday August 25, 2005
The Guardian

In 1982 the Prince of Wales was elected president of the BMA, and promptly used this platform to lecture doctors on the attractions of healing. Naturally, he anticipated some resistance. "Perhaps," he told the doctors, "we just have to accept it is God's will that the unorthodox individual is doomed to years of frustration, ridicule and failure in order to act out his role in the scheme of things, until his day arrives and mankind is ready to receive his message."

Years of frustration passed, but mankind did not get any readier. The Prince persisted. A speech last year, recommending Gerson therapy, a regime involving much juice and coffee enemas, attracted, if possible, more ridicule than any of his previous observations on alternative medicine. The prince said he knew of a lady, diagnosed with terminal cancer, for whom Gerson had proved a real lifesaver.

The most forceful rebuke, on that occasion, came from Professor Michael Baum, the eminent oncologist, who wrote an open letter in the British Medical Journal, beseeching Charles to be more careful in recommending unproven alternative therapies to patients with life-threatening diseases. "My authority comes with a knowledge built on 40 years of study and 25 years' active involvement in cancer research," Baum pointed out. "Your power and authority rest on an accident of birth." Believers in God's will, of course, might see this accident differently.

Charles persisted. He commissioned his biggest yet challenge to conventional medicine: a report, to be published this autumn, which reportedly argues that the wider provision of complementary therapies such as homeopathy could be cost-effective for the NHS. It has been prepared by Christopher Smallwood, a former economics adviser, whose medical qualifications are identical to Prince Charles's: nil.

It is pointed out that Smallwood has nothing to do with the Prince of Wales's own Foundation for Integrated Medicine, which believes in "promoting a holistic and integrated approach to healthcare which engages with all aspects of a patient's being including mind, body and spirit and which takes into consideration environmental, psychosocial and nutritional aspects of health". It also believes in "the intrinsic healing capacity of every person".

It was not this foundation, but the Prince of Wales himself who commissioned the forthcoming report, of which a draft has been seen by Professor Edzard Ernst, of the University of Exeter and a contributor to this newspaper. Ernst has commented that the report features "outrageous estimates without any strong evidence to support them" and "is based on such poor science, it is hair-raising".

Of course the final draft may be different, but given its authorship, and in the absence of new research which might justify extending NHS provision of complementary therapies, there is every reason to believe the prince's latest plug for magic-based medicine will be received in the traditional fashion: denounced by doctors, and supported by a few like-minded aficionados of coffee enemas, cranial osteopathy, and Samuel Hahnemann's distilled water. If, as it appears, Charles has attempted on this occasion to shape public health policy, there will presumably be further questions about his increasingly ambitious assessment of his constitutional importance.

Since he first declared his antipathy to orthodox treatment, this pattern of events has been repeated so often, and with so little sign that the prince is getting anywhere in revolutionising the health service, that the most interesting aspect of his interventions has ceased to be what he is saying (for these hallowed truths are, in any case, unchanging), and become, instead, the intensity of his need to keep on saying it. It is time, in short, for the thing to be considered holistically, taking into consideration the full environmental, psychosocial and nutritional context.

Ridicule me if you like, but I intuit a quite unusual kind pathology at work here. It has been noted, for years, that the prince's default mood is one of extravagant self-pity, usually on the basis that no one understands/appreciates him, everybody mocks/despises him. But this certainty, so essential to the prince's wellbeing, is apt to be shaken, regularly, by the fact of his being one of the most fortunate men alive. Thus, the prince has become dependent, one might almost say addicted, to the regular supply of condemnation required to trigger a sensation of victimhood, and thus, a truly satisfying bout of self-pity. (It seems no coincidence that his new report - a rather obvious plea for more Baum-style critiques - arrives at a time of personal fulfilment, shortly after marriage to the woman he loves.)

Why is medicine, unlike history teaching, or conventional farming, the subject of the prince's most sustained, deliberately ignorant and vexatious challenges? Because over time, hardened to normal doses of criticism, the prince has become dependent on stronger and stronger levels of denunciation, and discovered that the collective hostility of the medical profession is a more powerful drug than the much milder indignation of the academic or agricultural establishments.

Without actually laying my hands on the prince, I am reluctant to be more definite, and it remains quite possible that a simple case of blocked energy explains his pointless and faintly creepy obsession with other people's diseases. Alternatively, it could stem from a bad experience in a surgery around 60 years ago. Add to that his growing belief in the sacred dimension of his office and you can see how the prince may, quite genuinely, have come to believe that he possesses healing powers, like absolute monarchs of the past.

Unlike his predecessors, who seem to have specialised, with some reluctance, in sufferers from scrofula, Charles generously proposes to heal us one and all, regardless of ridicule and frustration and the rather steep cost to the NHS. Eventually, mankind will be ready to receive his message. Not today, though.

(rest of article deleted, as it deals with another subject)

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