German Homeopathy: deadly, stupid, and supported by me

April 12, 2010

Medical insurance here in Germany is compulsory, which is probably not such a bad idea. It costs 15% of your income, unless you happen to be poor or have an irregular income, in which case it can cost more than 100% of your income, which can itself lead to health problems. But piteous whining is not the purpose of this post, as I have already done that in an earlier post on this topic.

As reported earlier, I complained to my medical insurer about their policy of paying for customers’ homeopathy treatments. (They spend on average €109 ($US148) per head per year on alternative therapies like homeopathy. Even if I don’t use it myself, it is included in my fees. So over the last ten years I’ve probably supplied about €1000 to quacks.)

They responded by explaining that they actually pay less than other insurers and are under constant pressure from their clients to pay more. Homeopathy is extremely popular here, so I assumed they were making a decision based purely on popularity rather than medical considerations.

I looked for another insurer, but found that all insurers pay for homeopathy. As I outline below, it turns out that they are actually required by law to pay homeopaths vast sums of money each year for useless placebos.

Homeopathy, in case anyone is not aware, is the practise of adding a small portion of a carefully chosen substance (wolf’s milk, for eg.,) to a larger amount of water and then further diluting until there is not even a single molecule of the original substance left. This doesn’t matter so much because the substance was chosen for no good reason in the first place. It has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with human physiology and has absolutely no effect on any illness. One homeopathic preparation is indistinguishable from the next. They are simply vials of water with different labels on them.

Homeopaths argue that skeptics are narrow mindedly rejecting homeopathy simply because it conflicts with current “scientific dogma” (like, that atoms exist). But the decisive fact is that the results of properly controlled and blinded tests clearly show homeopathy is no better than a placebo. (Unless the study was carried out by homeopaths themselves , in which case the results are overwhelmingly positive.)

The absurdity of the philosophy behind it and the process by which substances are diluted is only of comic value. (Here’s a nice  15 minute run down of the facts by James Randi.)

Not so funny is the damage this stupid product does to people (if taken by sick people instead of proper medicine) and the threat it poses to public health in general.

The German Association of Homeopthic Doctors**, (NB: **= link in German) for example, has a carefully worded statement on the topic of vaccination. They highlight the dangers of vaccination, while emphasising the right of people to make a “personal choice” about whether or not to “take the risk” of vaccination. They do clearly state that there “is no homeopathic vaccination” (true) but then continue to describe homeopathy as an equally valid “alternative to vaccination” for those who choose not to vaccinate (untrue and misleading).

Privately homeopaths don’t make such reasonable sounding (though already deceitful) statements. They routinely advise against vaccination, while presenting homeopathy as if it has equal standing with standard medical practise (which they disparagingly refer to as Shulmedizin – “school medicine”).

Other treatments routinely recommended in private (though shied away from in public by official bodies) include homeopathic anti-malaria treatments. and cancer treatments.

Plenty more details in this article, The Gentle Art of Homeopathic Killing.

Worse still, the despicable group Homeopaths Without Borders** promotes its witchcraft in third world countries. A quote from their annual report, noted by this scientist-blogger**:

Homeopathy is a sensible alternative to the massive medications used by Schulmedizin. Strengthening the life force helps patients suffering from HIV infections. Treating a child with AIDS normally costs $US8000 a month and is therefore prohibitively expensive. A homeopathic treatment for such a child costs a mere $30 per year.

The apparent legitimacy which insurance companies are forced to grant them is an important tool in spreading their dangerous lunacy.

I’m not impressed with this, so I have started to try and find out how exactly these scammers have managed to slither through a system that is in every other respect meticulously controlled. This is no easy process, given the Kafkaesque nature of German bureaucracies (not to mention German compound nouns).

To cut a long story short, this is what I have discovered. The Health Department accepts advice on the acceptability of a given treatment from a couple of different bodies. One of these, the Gemeinsame Bundesausschuss** wrote a special clause in 2004 expressly stating that both homeopathy and anthroposophical medicine are exempt from needing any scientific or medical justification.

No surprises there. Just like the NHS in England, which also lowered the standards to exempt homeopaths from the normal rules of evidence. This is damning in itself, given how regularly they claim to have studies to back up their claims.

But another body**, which is more powerful than the afore-mentioned body, has, incredibly, determined that studies show homeopathy has performed as well as other medicines. It seems to have granted homeopathy the same or similar status as officially recognised medical treatments for certain conditions. I still haven’t managed to speak to anyone from there, as they keep absurd hours which clash with my work times, and none of their documentation is available on the internet.

But it looks like some group of homeopaths has got some bogus studies through. I want to get hold of these studies and see if they were carried out properly.

I have absolutely no relevant training in anything relevant to this subject, but I am willing to bet a million dollars that those studies were improperly carried out. (If this indeed turns out to be the case. I was only told this by a woman in another department who was quite indignant at my questioning of homeopathy.)

Stay tuned…

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