BHA vs BHA

 

There is a bunch of homeopathic organisations in the UK. Unfortunately, one of them has the same initials as the British Humanist Association, an organisation I am proud to have been part of in various ways for some 20 years. Although I had no part in writing any text on the organisation’s website about homeopathy, I’m happy to defend its stance, which happens to coincide with my own. It is a stance entirely in keeping with a humanist world view, which judges each situation on its merits according to standards of reason and humanity.

The British Homeopathic Association is a charity whose overall priority is to “ensure that homeopathy is available to all”. It doesn’t appear to be a membership organisation but it seems anyone can become a ‘friend’ of theirs for an annual donation of £25.

Patrons are just royals and assorted celebrities. Idiots, obviously.

It seems the British Homeopathic Association takes strong exception to a short piece on the British Humanist Association’s website. Here’s a snippet:

British Humanist Association Director of Public Affairs and Campaigns Pavan Dhaliwal said, ‘The fact that some NHS trusts continue to spend money on treatments known to be ineffective at a time when the health service is facing tremendous financial pressure is astonishing. Not only is this wasteful, but it could even put public health at risk. Public money could be better spent providing treatments that have been proven to work.’

A few days ago, Margaret Wyllie, Chair of the British Homeopathic Association, published the piece below on their website. It is so awful, I am happy to do them the kindness of bringing it to a wider audience.

In dispute with the BHA

No we’ve not fallen out with ourselves.

The BHA to which I refer is the British Humanist Association, a registered charity that according to the mission statement on its website believes in “equal treatment of everyone regardless of religion or belief”. That is unless you are a patient in Liverpool seeking treatment from the city’s NHS homeopathy service. For the Humanists appear to have abandoned its egalitarian views to support a campaign to force Liverpool CCG to withdraw funding from a homeopathic clinic that has benefitted hundreds of patients over many years.

Although the service is provided by medically trained doctors with years of clinical experience, the Humanists haven’t sought out their views – or that of their patients – before coming to a decision, preferring instead to base their position on highly prejudiced statements from an anti-homeopathy campaign group called the Good Thinking Society, none of whom appear to have any medical training whatsoever. This seems somewhat at odds with one of the Humanists’ guiding principles that affirms their belief in “engaging in debate rationally, intelligently, and with attention to evidence”.

Before publicising its support for the campaign to deprive the people of Liverpool of their NHS homeopathy service did the Humanists engage in rational, intelligent debate with any proponents of homeopathy or genuinely evaluate all of the evidence? Sadly, no! Again this appears contrary to another of their cherished values: “… being cooperative, working with others of different beliefs for the common good”.

The Humanists also say they believe in “recognising the dignity of individuals and treating them with fairness and respect”. The tearful 94-year-old lady from Liverpool, who called our offices, distraught at the prospect of losing access to the NHS homeopathic treatment she receives for her rheumatoid arthritis, would no doubt dispute this.

We have written to the British Humanist Association explaining our point of view and detailing the factual inaccuracies contained in the statements they have issued about homeopathy. They responded saying their stance is the “only reasonable and humane position” that they could take.

The leadership of the British Humanist Association certainly espouses a strange brand of humanity.

Of course denying patients their choice of medical treatment is, as Margaret Wyllie implies, religious discrimination. But only when the ‘treatment’ they seek is homeopathy, which is actually a religious ritual disguised as a treatment and shouldn’t be provided on the NHS in the first place, especially outside the confines of designated hospital prayer rooms. Of course, if you believe in it, it may work but only on conditions that respond to placebo or just get better by themselves. Much like prayer.

Homeopathy is not an equal treatment to science-based medicine and, when it comes to the provision of healthcare, “equal treatment of everyone regardless of religion or belief” means giving everybody equal access to effective treatments. It doesn’t include humouring those who believe in pre-science piffle.

The NHS doesn’t have the resources to provide whatever floats your boat. It has to be discriminating in what it funds and shouldn’t be funding treatments that don’t work, whatever they are.

The most extensive investigation ever carried out concluded recently that homeopathy was not effective for any condition. Of course, like homeopathists everywhere, the British Homeopathic Association reject the findings of the Australian NHMRC review on unsupportable grounds and offers some cherry-picked study of their own:

A recent meta-analysis published by the British Homeopathic Association (http://goo.gl/L4Bguw) has provided independently verified evidence that individually prescribed homeopathic medicines may have clinical effects that are greater than those of placebos.

The link takes us to the Robert T Mathie systematic review and meta-analysis which, for some inexplicable reason, is being served up as the plat du jour of evidence for homeopathy by believers everywhere at the moment, even though it’s just the same old story:

The low or unclear overall quality of the evidence prompts caution in interpreting the findings. New high-quality RCT research is necessary to enable more decisive interpretation.

That’s what homeopathy supporters think is a “positive” study??

It’s no secret that the weight of evidence is against homeopathy. That’s why those who oppose the provision of homeopathy on the NHS don’t have to be medically trained, though many are. Remember five years ago the British Medical Association voted overwhelmingly to oppose the NHS funding of homeopathy. They’re medically trained but, for some reason, Margaret Wyllie isn’t impressed.

Nor do we have to waste our time seeking the views of those who make a living providing it. One can, if one engages all the parts of one’s brain so they work as a team, probably anticipate what homeopaths working in the NHS will say about having to find a proper job and it wouldn’t get us any further and certainly wouldn’t be for any “common good”.

I don’t know why Margaret Wyllie thinks the British Humanist Association didn’t rationally debate the question or evaluate the evidence. Some have been doing so for years. There is a scientific consensus on homeopathy and that includes many members of our organisation, as well as the high-profile scientists among our Patrons. We’ve got people like Professor Jim Al-Khalili OBE, Professor Sir David King FRS and Professor Sheila McLean FRSE, FRCGP, FRSA. They’ve got people like Annabel Croft and Twiggy.

We don’t need the Good Thinking Society to tell us how to think good — we were doing that well before the GTS came along but, judging by her blog, the Chair of the British Homeopathic Association could do with a few lessons.

Here’s the first: As it says on the Humanist website, “a humanist is someone who trusts to the scientific method”.

Anyone canny enough to realise that personal perceptions can be mistaken and who trusts to the scientific method rather than their imagination cannot support homeopathy no matter how many old ladies from Liverpool thinks it helps their rheumatoid arthritis or how tearful they are when their placebo is taken away.

“Recognising the dignity of individuals and treating them with fairness and respect”, doesn’t mean giving them toy medicine on demand at the expense of other people’s lives. Nobody is going to die for want of homeopathy though they may die if they choose it instead of effective treatments. But people die all the time for want of real medicine — not just in developing countries but here in the UK too. Just ask oncologist Prof Michael Baum, whose patients’ died while they waited for the cancer treatments herceptin and aromatase inhibitors to be evaluated by NICE for cost effectiveness, after they’d passed all the clinical trials. That took two years during which time the NHS spent £20 million — several times what was needed for the new drugs — on refurbishing the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital. (Source.)

As well as wasting money, providing homeopathy on the NHS gives it a credibility it doesn’t merit but which the lay homeopaths benefit from. As Pavan Dhaliwal reminded Margaret Wyllie in the rest of her response which, for some reason Mrs Wyllie doesn’t share with us, in addition to the lack of scientific plausibility and the lack of robust evidence, homeopathy can be “positively dangerous given that many lay homeopaths appear willing to prescribe it as an alternative to vaccinations for dangerous diseases such as malaria”.

Pavan continues:

You note that we are ‘the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity.’ Given this lack of evidence and potential for harm, and the general paucity of state resources, we believe the only reasonable and humane position that we could take is to campaign for an end to state funding of homeopathy through the NHS and elsewhere.

Couldn’t have put it better myself.

BHA 1–0 BHA.

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