Anti-Science

World Homeopathy Awareness Week: Day 7 – Last but not least, babies

Today was the final day of World Homeopathy Awareness Week. The best way that I can explain my elation is to put it this way: Take 1 part sad, dilute it to a 50 LM potency, put it in your pocket and ride a horse around the world. That’s how happy I am.

Though it’s been easy and enjoyable taking shots at the ridiculousness of homeopathy, I think the proper end to this week is to address the most important issue regarding homeopathy: the children that have died or been seriously injured because of it. I don’t want to give the impression that either adults do not get hurt from using homeopathic remedies or that the adults that do somehow deserve it. I don’t blame the victim. But the child victims had no choice. They could not do their own research. The people they cling to for safety failed them because of a belief that mint-fearing water and lactose pills could cure them.

All the names and links in this post were pulled from the site WhatsTheHarm.net. I’d really like to thank Tim Farley, the owner of the site, for putting together such an amazing and powerful resource, depressing as it may be.

Lorie Atikian

Age: 17 months
Ontario, Canada

Died (malnutrition, pneumonia)
September 25, 1987
Lorie’s parents, concerned about modern food additives, were advised to give her an organic vegetarian diet. She was also treated with herbal & homeopathic remedies and an energy machine. Her parents were convicted of neglect.

According to The National Center Against Health Fraud, when Lorie was 9 months old she was in perfect health, but “when she died she was nearly bald, covered with deep red rashes, and so emaciated that the paramedics thought they were being tricked by being given a doll to treat.”

When Lorie became ill she was treated with royal jelly, “cell salts” (homeopathy), and an herbal concoction brewed by Hanswille. He also treated Lorie with an electromagnetic “vitalizing” machine that “stimulates the blood” and has attachments such as an electrified comb that “livens up the hair.” Sonia Atikian testified that they became very concerned about Lorie’s condition but that Hanswille assured them that it was normal for clumps of her baby’s hair to fall out and not to worry if Lorie didn’t gain weight. Hanswille told Sonia that taking Lorie to a hospital would be like “holding a loaded gun to Lorie’s head and pulling the trigger.”

Cameron Ayres

Age: 6 months
Fulham, west London, England

Died
May 1999
Cameron was born with a rare but treatable disorder, but his parents distrusted conventional medicine and never took him to a GP. A nurse/homeopath begged them to take him to a doctor, but they refused. He died.

Cameron was the son of a homeopathic doctor who refused conventional diaper rash lotion because it was too “suppressive”.

BBC News reported

Cameron died in May last year after suffering a defect in his metabolism which caused a swollen stomach and testicles, extensive nappy rash and an enlarged liver.

He was fed honey and vinegar from an early age by his parents, Jeremy and Sylvie Ayres.

They refused to take Cameron to a doctor, instead visiting a homeopath who begged them to have him treated using conventional means.

Experts believe the baby either suffered an intolerance to a sugar present in fruit and vegetables or there was a defect in the way his body used fat for energy.

Isabella Denley

Age: 13 months
Kew, Victoria, Australia

Died (untreated epilepsy)
October 19, 2002
Isabella was prescribed medications for her epilepsy. Instead of using them, her parents consulted an iridologist, a kinesiologist, a psychic and an osteopath. She was being treated purely with homeopathic medication when she died.

Isabella was diagnosed with “life-threatening epilepsy”. Her parents didn’t like the side effects caused by the medicine prescribed by her neurologist. Instead they decided to treat her exclusively with alternative treatments.

Even though the alternative treatments were not working, she was repeatedly hospitalized because of her seizures, and her neurologist reported her parents to the Department of Human Services, the parents still believed that the side effects of anti-convulsants outweighed the benefits of them and that their daughter was “reliving a past life trauma” that apparently she had to try to get through without modern medicine.

Gloria Thomas

Age: 9 months
Sydney, NSW, Australia

Died (untreated infection)
May 2002
Gloria was diagnosed with eczema at four months. Her father, who taught and practiced homeopathy, treated her using that instead. She died of sepsis caused by broken skin due to her eczema.

Orac summed it up best:

Although it’s possible that modern medicine might have been able to prevent this death, one thing’s for sure: Treating the baby with water, which is all that homeopathic remedies really are, rather than effective medicine certainly didn’t make it more likely that this baby would survive. Worse, the baby almost certainly suffered far more than she should have.

Jaspar Tomlinson

Age: 0
England

Brain injury during childbirth
December 2004
Jaspar’s father is one of England’s leading naturopaths. His homeopathy assisted birth went horribly wrong. He suffered brain damage and now has cerebral palsy.

From skepdic (the original article is no longer available):

December 5, 2004. UK naturopath Max Tomlinson convinced his wife to have a home birth assisted by a homeopathic midwife and his son nearly died and was born with cerebral palsy because of it. When Tomlinson’s wife, Filipa, was 35 weeks pregnant and suffering from something Tomlinson’s herbs couldn’t help, he took her to a GP. She was diagnosed with obstetric cholestasis, a liver disorder that meant there was a high risk of the baby being stillborn. The GP wanted to induce labor but Tomlinson took Filipa home and gave her milk thistle and dandelion. When Filipa did go into labor and had dilated to the point where they could see the baby’s hair, she did what felt natural to her. She walked around and crushed the baby’s skull. When they finally went to the hospital, they failed to tell the conventional medical personnel that she’d been in labor for more than 15 hours. Had they known, they would have induced labor. Two hours later, the baby was born. Writes Tomlinson: “When he finally emerged, he looked like he had been beaten up. One side of his head was so swollen, he had no neck, and his skull was squashed into a point.”

“Jane Roe”

Age: 1
Wellington, New Zealand

Died (untreated meningitis)
1991
Homeopathy

From New Zealand Science Monthly:

In a Coroner’s Court late last year, a mother described how she had refused antibiotics for her baby’s ear infection, preferring to take homeopathic advice. Two weeks after the initial consultation, the baby was taken again to the homeopath, who expressed concern about its poor health but who did not suggest seeking conventional medical treatment.

The mother, a registered nurse, commented that the symptoms looked like meningitis and, two days later, took her baby to her regular doctor. The doctor insisted on the baby being hospitalised immediately and noted that it took some time to convince the mother to do this.

The consultant paediatrician at Wellington Hospital, Dr Thorston Stanley, reported a “great sense of frustration in dealing with the mother, who opposed him every step of the way”. Despite intensive treatment, the child died a week later from brain damage as a result of bacterial meningitis.

The past week I’ve spent a lot of time wondering how people could buy into something that was so obviously bullshit. The more I read about homeopathy, the more it angered and frustrated me. The mere stupidity of it all is easy to poke fun at when we’re talking about homeopathic nose spray and antacids.

It’s amusing to think that there are people running in fear from mint flavored dental floss because it could interfere with a homeopathic cold remedy. That perhaps someone’s rash isn’t getting better because his water solution wasn’t whacked against a leather book enough times. That people actually take caffeine pills to fall asleep. That there are infertility remedies specifically for bald wrinkly men with upset tummies. That children’s non-existent school problems can be cured with the milk of their favorite animals.

But when children are needlessly dying from eczema and epilepsy; when, in their last days on earth, they have to suffer from “swollen stomach and testicles, extensive nappy rash and an enlarged liver” because conventional medicine is considered “suppressive”; when parents just can’t face the fact that maybe real medicine is at least worth a shot; the level of ridiculousness has not decreased, but the whole thing has ceased being funny.

World Homeopathy Awareness Week is over. Hopefully we are all a little bit more informed on the subject. Hopefully we all have more ammunition to fight with when we are face-to-face with a true believer. Hopefully, but not likely, someone will have changed his or her mind on the subject.

I will not be meeting you here tomorrow to discuss homeopathy. I’m done with that for a while. Right now I just want to go hug my son and be grateful that he was born into a society and into a time where we are fortunate enough to have western, evidence based, modern medicine.

Elyse

Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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26 Comments

  1. All I can say is that you provide a powerful public service by writing this. Thank you for doing all that research to find these sad cases.

    This will help the rest of us give real life examples of why quackery actually kills people.

  2. “Well how do you know it doesn’t work?”
    “That’s just your Western-biased opinion.”
    “Well, my sister is a homeopathic ‘doctor’ so…”

    These are just some of the things I’ve heard when I bring up homeopathy. It’s incredibly frustrating. And then I read something like this and I feel like my head is going to explode because I know deep down that a true believer, after reading this, would STILL try to justify homeopathy and blame something else.

  3. I feel obligated to note that it is possible to raise your child on vegetarian food without any ill health effects (the FDA agrees on this one so it isn’t just me). I know a bit about that because I am a vegetarian so I did a lot of research when my child was born.

    In order for the first child to have died of malnutrition there must have been more to the story than just not eating meat.

  4. I am also vegetarian and raising my son as a vegetarian. When What’s The Harm says that a child died from “vegetarianism” it is not to say that parents are starving their kids by not letting them eat bacon burgers. The harm is when a vegetarian diet is used in place of medicine, as in Lorie Atikian’s case.

    In the case of Cameron Ayres, a 6 month old should not be on a veg or non-veg diet. He should be just starting solid foods, but still getting all of his nutrition from breast milk or formula. No 6 month old should be eating honey, and I can’t even imagine what vinegar would do to a newborn’s stomach.

  5. “” it was normal for clumps of her baby’s hair to fall out and not to worry if Lorie didn’t gain weight. “”

    Anyone who believes that should be hit. In the face. With a hammer. Twice.

  6. “Anyone who believes that should be hit. In the face. With a hammer. Twice.”

    Seconded. I’ve heard a lot of stupidity in my life, but that’s one of the highest on the scale – and most dangerous.

  7. First rate series Elyse!! Pat your self on the back and all that stuff.

    In the US and the UK medical neglect is child abuse and most child protection offices would not hesitate to intervene if a child is not being given necessary medical care. Some times friends, neighbors, family members and medical professionals know what is going on but hesitate to call or fail to call the authorities because they do not want to offend, or feel it’s the parents choice. Some things are optional, others are not. That alternative health care practices kills children is well known in the medical community and any doctor who does not call the authorities in cases like this is equally culpable with the parent. And I wouldn’t hesitate to say friends and family who know what is happening to a child and do not call, share in the ultimate responsibility for the outcome.

  8. Thanks, James.

    I agree with you about the sharing the responsibility part. But I think that part of the problem with people not reporting friends and family members is more than not wanting to offend. There’s also this idea that alternative medicine is just that – an alternative. That it is on equal footing, that it is just another way of getting medicine… sometimes even a healthier way of getting medicine.

    On Autism Awareness Day, Dr. Sanjay Gupta was telling parents of autistic kids to try to get into clinical trials and that they should be looking for trials on chelation and acupuncture.

    How do you convince the general public that alt therapies are not only ineffective but dangerous and possibly even deadly when Sanjay Gupta and Oprah are telling people that they’re just as good as real medicine?

    I only wish there were more I could do.

  9. Hi ,
    I’m new to this site. This article is very interesting and sad. Do you know if these parents were arrested for neglecting their children?
    I have a 21 month old and could not imagine doing that to him. What is wrong with people??

    BTW: love reading all the blogs…. everyone seems really nice :)

  10. Welcome aboard, the more themerrier, I always say… but don’t be fooled, we just seem nice. Deep down, we’re a bunch subversive malcontents trying to completely restructure global society… Also, we talk at the movies.

  11. Elyse
    Well Whoopta Gupta and Oprah dopa. God, what credulous jerks.

    I know it really feels like one is railing at a brick wall sometimes. But one comforting thing to remember is that most alternative and non traditional medical care is used for things that will usually take care of themselves. Interestingly its usually the more educated and financially well off that take alternative medicine to the extreme in the US. Poor folk don’t tend to have the time for such highfalutin notions and just go with normal health care. If governments and insurance companies were to stop finding any and all alternative care bad things would happen less often.

  12. “” it was normal for clumps of her baby’s hair to fall out and not to worry if Lorie didn’t gain weight. “”

    Anyone who believes that should be hit. In the face. With a hammer. Twice.

    Follow that up with 5 hits to their reproductive organs with a sledge so there is no way possible for them to pass on the ignorance and stupidity that quote from the doctor exudes.

  13. People like myself have benefitted from our experiences with homeopaths.

    Our family and friends know of our experiences.

    Thus, interest grows as anecdotal stories spead.

    Placebo effect? probably.

    I got better because of the fascinating placebo effect? Good, – at least I got better .

    The placebo effect cost me £35.00 – worth every penny.

    Free NHS pills from my doctor hadn’t done anything.

    Anyone can drink themselves to death, doesn’t make booze something to be avoided.

    Some people eat to much food and end up dead. No need for the rest of us to avoid food.

    Can’t blame food for people being silly.

    Some people excersice themselves to the point of ill health.

    No need to clamp down on excercise just because of a few fools.

    I wouldn’t use homeopathy instead of conventional medicine but I’ll give it a try again should conventional medicine fail as it did last time, leading me to seek out other methods to get better. With positive results.

    Positive results concrete enough to encourage my mum to visit the same London homeopath a few years later with her own ilness. Again, with positive results.

    Maybe “it” wont work next time and I’ll have wasted my money.

    *shrugs*

  14. deano-

    If you go back and read my entire series on homeopathy, you’ll see that homeopathy not only doesn’t work, it can’t work. Most people think that homeopathy is just another form of herbal medicine. It is not.

    Here is a link to everything I’ve written on Skepchick. You don’t have to read it all, just the homeopathy awareness week parts. Most of my information came directly from homeopathic sites. If, after you’ve read all 7 articles, you still think that homeopathy is a reasonable therapy, then godspeed to you.

    Maybe a placebo effect might seem worth it to you for something minor, but that money spent only goes to lend false credibility to homeopathy as a whole. But I personally find it criminal to sell sick people a remedy that contains zero molecules of any active ingredient, no matter how minor their sicknesses might be.

  15. I’ve read your entire series on homeopathy. You provide no proof that homeopathy does not work. With all due respect, who are you to say it cannot work? You seem to place value in conventional medicine’s “scientific, evidence-based” approaches, yet your “research” consists of quotes taken from less than reputable, commercial websites and youtube videos.

    What point is there in condemning something one does not understand? Before passing judgement, at least be open to hearing the other side of the argument from reputable sources and experiencing homeopathy for yourself.

    Do you know, for example, the percentage of practitioners in the above cases who were actually licensed, registered health professionals? I would suspect a very small minority. In states and areas of the world where homeopathy is not regulated literally anyone can call themselves a “homeopath.” The cases above support the necessity of regulating CAM professions and educating people on the possible consequences of visiting an unlicensed practitioner. Homeopathy did not kill these people. Neglectful, unlicensed and unskilled “healers” killed these people. Visit the following sites for licensed, skilled homeopaths and info:
    http://www.homeopathyusa.org/ and http://www.hanp.net/general/home

    And as to homeopathy being unscientific … just because it does not fit into the conventional paradigm does not make it “quak medicine.” Consider the following journal articles which conclude that homeopathy is as good and sometimes better than conventional medicine for certain conditions: http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?tool=pubmed&pubmedid=17335565
    http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?tool=pubmed&pubmedid=17173103
    http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?tool=pubmed&pubmedid=16266440

    Your articles further many of the common myths about homeopathy. The following authors can debate those myths better than I:
    http://www.fasebj.org/cgi/content/full/20/14/2661
    http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?tool=pubmed&pubmedid=16176742
    http://www.homeopathyworkedforme.org/#/myths/4526687811

    And here you go if famous people/celebrities will persuade you: http://www.homeopathic.com/articles/view,63

    Maybe after reading all these sources and experiencing homeopathy for yourself you will still hold tight to your current views (a skeptic is someone who habitually doubts accepted beliefs), but at least you will have considered the entire story. I would like to read that story/blog much more than the superficial arguments you’ve presented thus far.

  16. A skeptic is someone who doubts. Someone who says “show me the evidence.” Medicine can show the evidence and explain how it works. Homeopathy can point a few poorly-controlled tests and anecdotes. Does not work. Can not work. There’s nothing in it TO work.

    If you want to believe in the sychic powers of waer, feel free, but no one with the most basic understanding of how the world actually operates is likely to buy into it without some SERIOUS self-delusion.

  17. There are numerous examples of conventional medical treatments that are widely used, yet the mechanism of action – “how it works” – is unknown. The main “tool” in a conventional medical doctor’s “toolbox” is pharmaceuticals … statins, warfarin, psychotropics, anti-epileptic drugs, just to name a few, are all examples of meds that doctors prescribe even though they don’t understand why and how they work. And this is to say nothing of the multiple drug interactions they haven’t explored nor understand. Yet many people take multiple medications. How can you accept these unproven standards but automatically dismiss homeopathy? It seems to be a double standard.

    And it is false to say that homeopathy has no evidence to back it up. Homeopathy has an extensive amount of empirical evidence pointing to its validity (look into homeopathic provings).

  18. Homeopathy constantly and consistantly FAILS to hold up to double-blind testing.

    The mechanisms for how chemicals affect other chemicals are well understood. The mechanisms for water psychically remembering what used to be in it are not. In fact, it runs contrary to everything we do know about the world… as does the idea of a smaller dose having a larger effect. Even if it DID make sense, what is smaller than none? By that ogic, not taking homeopathic remedies atall is the MOST EFFECTIVE use of them. On that, at least, I agree.

  19. Just because homeopathy does not fit into the conventional paradigm of double blinded, placebo controlled studies does not mean it is not valid. This type of study is appropriate for conventional medicine because the doctor gives a specific medication for a specific disease – this easily fits into the paradigm because that is what this type of study was originally designed to evaluate. However, in homeopathy a remedy is given based upon the totality of symptoms of an individual – not for a single pathology. Just because two people have been labeled with the same illness does not mean they would receive the same homeopathic remedy. Therefore, it is false to conclude homeopathy “fails to hold up” when, because of the method in which it is used, it can not be properly evaluated by this limited conventional model.

    Water memory theory is just that – a theory. There are different homeopathic theories just like there are different scientific theories.

    Also, just because something is not in material form does not mean it does not exist or cannot interact. Quantum physics … but that gets us into a whole other discussion.

  20. Ah, Quantum Physics… Not-so-secret code for “I don’t understand and I hope you don’t either”…

    Water memory idiocy is just that – idiocy. Don’t try to compare that crap to scientific theories. Gravitation, evolution – these are theories. Homeopathy is ridiculousness of the highest degree.

  21. “The mere stupidity of it all is easy to poke fun at when we’re talking about homeopathic nose spray and antacids.”

    Just thought I’d point out that some things that are sold as “homeopathic” products are actually mislabelled, and the manufacturers of them actually meant “naturopathic”.

    My own thoughts on the matter are that for many things, it’s best to rely on prayer and meditation to lend a spiritual assist to the body’s natural self-healing mechanisms. I think that when homeopathy works for people, it works on the spiritual level. But if it works on the spiritual level, then I don’t see why one would need the outside agency of what is essentially an expensive bottle of water that has been (in a sense) prayed over. Spiritual practice is something people can do for themselves. But if something in your body is going wrong and just keeps getting worse despite your spiritual endeavors, then definitely see a doctor, especially when a child’s health is at stake.

    I appreciate the opportunity to read about these child-death tragedies. While I think that people should have the freedom to experiment with different approaches to managing their own personal health (some herbal remedies are good stuff), people with an open mind should recognize dubious practicess that result in harm, especially harm to babies and toddlers. It’s because of situations such as these that we have child neglect and abuse laws, after all.

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