Evidence check – the committee meets the big wigs – clarifications all round

Monday saw the second round of oral submissions – though the name is a little misleading – it’s actually a question and answer session – no submissions that I could see.  It took the same format as the previous session (see blog on Nov 26th) with Rt Hon Mike O’Brien QC MP, Minister of State, Professor David Harper CBE, Chief Scientist, Department of Health, and Professor Kent Woods, Chief Executive, Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency in the hot seat.

Before opening the meeting, The Chair, felt the need to clarify what this committee’s remit actually is. I for one was glad to hear it, because in all the media furor since the last meeting, something had been lost in translation.
The Chair announced, “ I want to put it on record as there seems to be a little confusion about the nature of the work we’re doing.  This is not an enquiry into whether homeopathy works or not.  It’s an enquiry that follows a series of evidence checks across a number of government departments as to say whether in fact there was any evidence to support the government’s policy towards homeopathy.”

The Chair then opened the meeting and addressed his first question to Minister Mike O’Brien:
“ So does the government have any credible evidence that homeopathy works beyond the placebo effect?”
Subtle difference, no wonder we were all confused.

The meeting went back and forth – Evan Harris flexed his prosecuting muscles again – what he thought was a fellow traveller (the Chief Scientist) ended in disappointment.  Dr Harris was pushing hard that it was unethical to do any more Random Controlled Trials (RCTs) since the conclusion in the scientific community was ‘settled’ (homeopathy doesn’t work).  Professor Harper seemed to agree but when pressed he clarified his view.  “There is a lack of plausibility in the mechanism, but that isn’t to say there shouldn’t be research into like cures like, or molecular memory.”  Ouch Evan.

Prof Woods, Chief Executive of the MHRA was necessarily cautious about explaining that his remit is restricted to good manufacturing practice, and he held his own as Harris relentlessly searched for another sound bite to give the media.  As far as I could tell he didn’t get one, but we’ll see in the papers tomorrow.  Prof Woods concluded that all was well in the world of manufacturing and labeling.

Since this was about how government makes policy, the Minister got a grilling.  But the consummate politician stuck to his guns and stressed in many different ways that since funding for homeopathy was already in place, he could not recommend withdrawing it.  He took the view that there is a significant body of clinicians who say it works and they and their patients should be allowed access.   He mentioned the government has no plans for statutory regulations of non-medical homeopaths as they had put in place the Council for Natural Health Care CNHC) for voluntary regulation but added that the Society of Homeopaths (SOH) was not quite talking to the CNHC.  (SOH not ‘quite’ talking to them?  What’s up with that?)
Mr Stringer suggested that this lobby of clinicians was having a disproportionate effect on government policy.
A small group of dedicated homeopaths against the weight of conventional medicine?  Come on, Mr Stringer purleeez.
Dr Harris raised the anti-malarials issue again as suggestion of harm – and Prof Woods used the same  issue to support his regulatory body and its work – remedies can be withdrawn if necessary, and have been.
Asked how much was spent by the NHS on homeopathic “medicines”  (everyone was careful to put quotes around medicines used in this context) – the Minister replied; “£152K in a drug budget of  £11Billion, so around 0.001%.”
He confessed that overall funding for homeopathy was harder to calculate – but less than £12 Million (a little worrying that he said he took that figure from The Guardian!).  Nonetheless, that’s £12 Million from an NHS budget of around £100 Billion…….

Not that I’d support offering something just because it’s cheap, but as the Minister said:
“There is a significant lobby of clinicians who take the view that it works.  Should we stop funding it because the majority of other clinicians take the view it doesn’t work at all?  I have a problem with that  – with the illiberality of it – that personal choice in an area of medical controversy should be completely denied.”
Now that’s a conclusion I can live with.

Mr. Stringer and Dr Harris pressed for NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) to get involved and do some research. The Minister said NICE has other priorities and already has a queue of drugs waiting to be evaluated.
Dr Harris pressed: “If the chairman of NICE asked you?”  (Nicely?)
The Minister said “ I would object and ask is that the best thing you can do given the queue of drugs we’re asking you to evaluate. It’s a practical matter.”
A line that was supported by Prof Harper.
Dr Harris had the lion’s share of the questions again and desperately tried to squeak a last one in, but The Chair shut the meeting down and everyone went home.

Watch it courtesy of the British government: http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=5257

Things to look out for:
A possible change of heart by the NICE chairman on the need to move homeopathy to the top of the evaluation list.
A flurry of articles condemning the use of homeopathy in AIDS since it’s international AIDS day today.

Note of caution:
Dr Harris if you open your eyes any wider there’s a real risk your eyeballs will fall out.

Careful Dr Harris !

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Evidence check – the committee meets the big wigs – clarifications all round

  1. What I find quite amazing is that most of the people testifying so far as experts, are not homeopaths, have never studied homeopathy, are blissfully unaware of the thousands of clinical cases cured by homeopathy, of the massive historical evidence for it’s success, of the numerous studies establishing both the basic principles of homeopathy and the clinical effects, and who in all probabality have never even tried a homeopathic remedy! Astonishing what passes for an expert witness theses days.
    I offer a fuller perspective on all this below:

    Defending Homeopathy
    By Alan Schmukler

    The other day I was reading about hospitals in Europe which use homeopathy. At the General Hospital in Klagenfurt, Austria, children with cancer are treated with homeopathy along with conventional medicine. (1) At another hospital in Austria, (KA Rudolfstiftung), homeopathy is used with newborns in the delivery room, intensive and intermediate care units. (2) Children with profound mental impairment receive homeopathic care in the Rzadkowo Welfare Centre in Poland. (3) I also read about a study at Vinnitsa Medical University (Ukraine) where atrial fibrillation was successfully treated using homeopathy (4). (The wife of a friend of mine recently underwent drastic surgery for this same problem.) Finally, there was the heartening research of Dr. Nikolaus Hock in Munchen Germany, using homeopathy to treat depression. He presented two cases of people suffering from depression who got no relief from drugs in over two years. They were each cured in five weeks with homeopathic remedies (Aurum muriaticum and Alumina). (5)

    In light of all this, and homeopathy’s massive accomplishments, it seems absurd that homeopathy is still being attacked by the allopathic (orthodox) establishment. If factual evidence were the critical variable in convincing our critics, the debate would have ended long ago. We have two hundred years of well documented clinical successes as well as research and clinical practice. We also have the fact that thousands of board certified physicians practice homeopathy privately and in hospitals and clinics around the world. That should be enough.

    When homeopathy is attacked, the homeopathic community defends by analyzing the critics’ arguments and quoting more studies. Such responses are important and admirable as far as they go, but homeopathy keeps finding itself on the defensive, so we need an additional approach. Mere facts don’t seem to convince our opponents.

    There is an old saying, “ way of knowing is a way of not knowing.”
    Our detractors ”know” that highly diluted substances can’t effect physiology; therefore, they “know” that homeopathy can’t possibly work. It is a belief, much like a religious conviction, programmed by their training and reinforced by years of propaganda.

    It is not that people can’t learn from new information, but rather that they avoid information that contradicts their beliefs. There is sufficient data supporting homeopathy to convince anyone willing to look at it. The critics of homeopathy simply ignore the facts, while repeating their mantra about high dilutions.

    Last year The Lancet medical journal described homeopathic remedies as no better than “dummy drugs” (6) and recently, thirteen eminent clinical scientists in Britain described homeopathy as “implausible” and urged the National Health Service to stop wasting money on it. (7)

    These “scientists” are on shaky ground for more than one reason. Firstly, they are not qualified to engage in this discussion. Imagine if the BBC article had stated, “Thirteen eminent clinical scientists, who never studied homeopathy, had no in-depth knowledge of it, and never tried the remedies personally nor professionally, described homeopathy as implausible.” That would be ludicrous. Since when are people, unschooled in a subject, allowed to become authorities on it?
    The opponents of homeopathy, can’t accept the idea of high dilutions, and believe this aspect of homeopathy pre-empts all argument. However, that issue was put to rest long ago. There are numerous studies that demonstrate the effects of high dilutions. They’ve been duplicated in other labs and were done under circumstances where placebo effects were not a factor. For example: High potencies of thymulin were shown to depress immune response in mice (8), Potentized [homeopathic] cyanide of mercury, protected mice from toxic doses of that substance. (9) High dilutions of thyroxin altered the rate at which larvae change into tadpoles (10), and potentized Ruta Graveolens and Ginseng protected mice from sub-lethal doses of X-rays. (11) All of that is quite available to anyone who honestly wants to know. With a Cliff Notes version of homeopathy, the opposition marches righteously forward.

    How do we change our opponents’ beliefs? First, we must demand that they educate themselves as a condition of debate. What expert would debate his field with a novice? But that is what we are being asked to do. If we embarrass them into becoming knowledgeable, our critics may succumb to the fate of Dr. Constantine Hering, the father of American homeopathy, who became a convert to homeopathy in the cause of debunking it.

    Secondly, we must insist that they actually try the remedies, because at the end of the day, we learn with our bodies. The world is divided into the haves and have nots: those who have tried homeopathy and those who have not. Those who have tried it–the 500 million people in the world who use homeopathy–know that it works. They didn’t decide that based on years of research. The people who disparage homeopathy, have no personal experience with it. There’s no excuse for that, since this is not a debate about life on Saturn. Homeopathic remedies are readily available. It would require no commitment for them to put a remedy where their mouth is. There is a proud tradition of scientists using their own bodies in research. Dr. Max von Pettenkofer drank a broth containing cholera and Dr. Jesse Lazear allowed mosquitoes infected with yellow fever to bite his arm. Surely we can ask our critics to try a little sugar pill. It seems absurd to argue about a point that can so easily be resolved.

    Aside from their lack of knowledge and experience, allopaths who attack homeopathy are on shaky ground for other reasons. They often challenge our research, but their own is totally compromised. Drug company money taints every step of the process. Pharma funds most of the research, controls the design of trials, directs the interpretation of findings and pays authors (often ghost authors) to write positive reviews in medical journals. (12) Not surprisingly, studies have shown that drug company-sponsored research almost always finds positive results for their drugs. (13)

    What’s more, the drug companies control what results get published, depending on whether they are favorable or not. The control extends all the way to intimidation of researchers. Not long ago a Canadian researcher was threatened with legal action by a drug company when she tried to publish negative findings on one of their drugs. (14)

    Federal oversight and research is no better. The watchdog agency which should protect us, the FDA, routinely permits researchers connected with Pharma, to sit on drug approval committees. Almost one-third of the FDA advisory committee which recommended that Vioxx remain on the market, had financial ties to the drug industry (15). Dr. Paul Rosch reported that 94% of the research scientists at NIH were receiving money from drug companies. (16)

    The result of all this compromised research is the release of drugs onto the market which are often ineffective and cause unspeakable harm.

    The medical journals themselves receive vast advertising revenue from the pharmaceutical industry. Richard Horton, the editor of The Lancet, described the relationship between drug companies and medical journals as “Somewhere between symbiotic and parasitic.” (17)

    No one is watching the store, not even your doctor. You expect your physician to make sound judgements on your behalf; but, to hawk their wares, the pharmaceutical companies spend about $7,000 per doctor per year in the U.S ( some get much more).(18) Doctors are gifted everything from sports tickets to expensive meals and trips. Doctors are also paid betwen $1,000 and $5,000 for each patient they enroll in a drug company triaI. (19) Studies show that all these gifts influence doctors’ prescribing patterns. (20) I was recently in a doctor’s office where drug logos embellished the clock, the calendar, the pens and writing pads, the floor mat and even the coffee cup. The only thing that didn?t have a drug logo on it was the woman sitting next to me.

    Our adversaries say that homeopathy is just placebo and that it doesn’t work. We could quote more studies on homeopathy, or we could put their own medicines under the spotlight. In 2003, the vice president of genetics at GlaxoSmithKline cited figures showing that most drugs are ineffective for 50-80 percent of the people who use them. In other words, most drugs don’t work for most people. Drugs for Alzheimers and cancer were least effective, useful in only 30% of cases. (21) Aside from whether they relieve symptoms, these drugs can make little claim of curing any chronic disease. Whose drugs don’t work?

    Let us also remind our critics of their own safety record. A study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that conventional drugs kill about 106,000 Americans a year, and this figure is limited to patients that die in the hospital, so the actual figure is unquestionably much higher. That makes prescription drugs the fourth leading cause of death in the United States (after heart attack, cancer and stroke). (22) Just one single drug, Vioxx, killed more Americans than the Vietnam War. That comes from the sworn testimony of Dr. David Graham, a senior scientist at the FDA. (23)

    The toll in suffering and death from allopathic drugs is beyond description. Samuel Hahnemann said it best, “This non-healing art has for centuries shortened the lives of ten times as many human beings as the most destructive wars and rendered many millions of patients more diseased and wretched than they were originally.” (24)

    Next time homeopathy is attacked, let us remove our opponents’ righteousness by exposing what they’re offering and demanding informed debate. They offer a medical system which uses tainted research, drugs that are not curative, don’t work for most people and are the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. Let us insist that they educate themselves and that they actually try the remedies. “How many remedies have you tried?” must be our mantra. Then perhaps we can have a dialogue and share our knowledge.
    # # #

    (1)(2)(3)(4)(5) Abstracts of the 60th Congress of the Liga Medicorum Homeopathica Internationalis :
    http://www.thieme-connect.com/ejournals/confauthlist/ahz/4048/grouping/5055

    (6) BBC – Homeopathy’s Benefit Questioned
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4183916.stm

    (7) The Guardian-May 24, 2006 – A Clash of Cultures
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/medicine/story/0,,1781756,00.html

    (8) Evaluation de la dose limite d’activite du Facteur Thymique Serique – Doucet-Jaboef M, et al. C.R. Acad.Sci. 295:III

    (9) Influence de l’administration de dilutions infinitesimiles de mercurius corrosivus sur la mortalite induite par le chlorure mercurique chez la souris. Cambar J, et al. (1983) Bull. Soc. Pharmacol. Bordeaux 122: 30-38.

    (10) The metamorphosis of amphibians and information of thyroxin storage via the bipolar fluid water and on a technical data carrier; transference via an electronic amplifier. Endler PC et al. Fundamental Research in Ultra High Dilution and Homeopathy. The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers. 1998: p.155.

    (11) Assessment of Cytogenetic Damage in X-irradiated mice mice and its alteration by oral administration of potentized homeopathic drug, Ginseng D200.
    Berlin J. Res. homeopathy (4/5):254.

    (12 ) Conflict of Interest in Clinical Drug Trials -Dr. Thomas Bodenheimer
    http://www.hhs.gov/ohrp/coi/bodenheimer.htm
    (13) Ibid.
    (14) Ibid.
    (15) Pharma Industry News Article Date: 26 Feb 2005 – 23:00 PST

    (16) Big Pharma and the Ties That Bind: The Politics of Drug Promotion (http://easydiagnosis.com/secondopinions/newsletter10.html)
    (17) Ibid.
    (18) Stephen Cha, “These Gifts are Bad for Our Health”, Washington Post, Sunday, July 24, 2005; Page B02
    (19) see (12)
    (20) Prescribing Under the Influence
    http://www.scu.edu/ethics/publications/submitted/morreim/prescribing.html
    (21) Alliance for Human Research Protection http://www.ahrp.org/infomail/03/12/08.php
    (22) Journal of the American Medical Association 4/15/98.
    (23) Testimony of Dr David Graham at Senate Finance Comittee Hearings
    http://www.senate.gov/~finance/hearings/testimony/2004test/111804dgtest.pdf
    (24) Hahnemann, Samuel. Organon of Medicine. 5th and 6th Edition, Trans.Dudgeon. India: B. Jain Pub.

    # # #

  2. voansyhomeopath

    Thanks Alan for your comprehensive summation of the situation.
    I would like to post this as a separate article if I may?

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