You may know that Britt Hermes, Ockham Awards laureate, who is an international skeptical campaigner about naturopathy, is currently being sued for defamation.
Britt used to be a naturopath herself, but she now spends a lot of time and effort exposing naturopathic practices, including on her blog “Naturopathic Diaries”.
She’s been taken to court in Germany by US-based naturopath ‘Dr’ Colleen Huber, who is claiming that Britt has defamed her on her blog. Huber is a critic of chemotherapy and radiation therapy in cancer treatment. Instead, she uses ‘natural’ therapies that include intravenous infusions of vitamin C and baking soda.
The international skeptical community is concerned that the case against Britt may have the effect of silencing a major campaigner against unproven and disproven ‘medical’ practices, through the imposition of considerable legal costs.
For this reason, the Australian Skeptics have set up a fund-raising campaign to help cover Britt’s legal costs.
Police were called to investigate a naturopath who had advised the family of a 4-year-old boy to give their son a combination of 12 different supplements and ‘natural therapies’ including calcium, vitamin D, camel milk and zinc. The boy had been vomiting and constipated for three weeks and lost 6lb (3kg) in weight before he was taken to accident and emergency and diagnosed with severe hypercalcaemia – very high calcium levels in his blood. Writing in the British Medical Journal’s Case Reports, doctors from Barts Health NHS Trust in London said, “Many families view these therapies as safer ‘natural’ options. But as this case demonstrates, there can be significant adverse effects which may go unrecognised due to lack of monitoring, recognition and experience with these therapies.”
Dutch newspaper Trouw featured an article critical of alternative cancer therapies today, which highlights that unreliable anecdotal stories are easily found online, and omit the dark side of unproven treatments. It refers to a case in Skepter (magazine of Stichting Skepsis) where a woman, Willeke, died of breastcancer after having visited multiple naturopaths, who all claimed her worsening condition proved the treatments were working.
Frits van Dam, secretary of the Vereniging tegen de Kwakzalverij (VtdK, Dutch Society against Quackery), points out that many of these treatments (Trouw mentions faith healing, bioresonance, mistletoe, an exotic worm called Fasciolopsis buskii, the Moerman and Houtsmuller diets, herbal supplements etc.) may often just be ineffective and not harmful in themselves. But they do waste cancer patients’ precious time (and money), in which they could have gotten a regular treatment, recovered and survived. Many alternative treatments may however be even more dangerous than the cancer itself, as evidenced by patients who died at the hands of Tullio Simoncini’s salt solutions or Klaus Ross’ glucose injections.