Dear Reader, I have chronic problems with my physical and mental health. While these problems are not life threatening, they are annoying and painful and adversely impact my life on many levels. This has given me a personal stake in the ethics of alternative medicine. In short – as far as I’m concerned, anyone who touts a practice that has not beaten a placebo in a scientific study can die in fire, unless that practice happens to be harmless and cheap, which most are not.
I’m a member of a Facebook group that is dedicated to funny memes and jokes about chronic illness. Yesterday I found a post which mentioned placing sliced onions around the house to catch germs (the onions are said to pull germs out of the air and when the onion turns black you know it’s working). When I pointed out that this idea has been around since before the bubonic plague and makes no sense at all, the onion users replied, “But it works!”
Here’s the thing. Onions are cheap and onions do no harm. If putting onions around the house or, as some other people do, putting a piece of potato in their socks at night makes people happy, well, no harm no foul. However, we (chronic pain patients) are the targets of all kinds of remedies that really can cause harm and that do cost money. I’ve developed a true hatred for companies that sell products with no actual value. They prey on the desperate, a word I plan to overuse here because it’s the word that fits.
People in pain are like everyone else – some of us are probably stupid and poorly educated, but most of us are not. We’re just terribly, terribly vulnerable because we are desperate for sleep and pain reduction. There’s not a pain reducing method or weight loss method (low weight is supposed to help my arthritis) that I haven’t seen, realized is scientifically invalid, and then googled anyway just in case maybe it really would be possible to shit myself thin using diet drinks or cure my bad ankle by rubbing essential oil on it.
Not only is touting “alternative” cures harmful to the wallets and/or bodies of patients, it’s harmful to alternative cures. Essential oils really do smell nice which reduces stress, and some can help my stuffed up nose, but I sincerely doubt that you can prevent cancer by putting a drop of myrrh and frankincense oil behind your ears daily. The actual benefits of oils, assuming there are any, are eclipsed by the inanity of the larger claims – which I would argue is true of most “alternative” therapies which may actually be great for some things in some cases but which make such broad claims that its impossible to support them.
My disability/disease/whatever – it doesn’t give me super powers. It doesn’t build character. It just makes me miserable and I’m desperate to fix it. So when some asshole comes along and promises that I will feel better if I take this homeopathic pill, it’s all I can do not to beg him to take my money even though I know it can’t work. To that asshole I say, fuck you for trying to prey on my jacked up neck and my ability to pop a hip out of joint by getting out of bed. How dare you try to wring my money out of my shitty ankle and my shitty knees and my exciting new trick of spontaneously dislocating my fingers? And even more so, how dare you try to exploit worried moms and terrified cancer patients and people with other serious diseases? You should be ashamed.
There are plenty of uneducated and, well, stupid people out there, but I don’t believe that they are the ones keeping things like homeopathy and juice cleanses afloat. Desperate people are doing that. And when we do things like put potatoes in our socks, well, hooray for the placebo effect, but when we spend our money on things that are useless at best and harmful at worst, then we are hurting ourselves. Don’t let predators make money from our hunger to be thinner and happier and, above all, free from pain.