College program panned as ‘magical thinking’
Critics question Ontario school’s new course
PATIENTS MAY FAIL TO SEEK EFFECTIVE HEALTH CARE.
Outrage is mounting over a publicly funded Ontario college’s plan to launch a diploma program in homeopathy, a practice based on the philosophy that illness can be treated with massively diluted substances — so super-diluted scientists say the “remedies” are virtually water.
Critics say Georgian College in Barrie has created a three-year course that has no grounding in science, is based on “magical thinking” and could ultimately harm the public by giving the field an air of official credibility.
Numerous studies, they argue, have found no reliable evidence from research in humans that homeopathic remedies are any more effective than placebos, or sugar pills.
“Homeopathy is a pseudoscience and this alone should be sufficient to reject the inclusion of such a program at a publicly funded institution,” Barrie physician Chris Giorshev wrote in a letter to Ontario’s minister of advanced education and skills development, Deb Matthews, as well as the community college’s board and president.
“There are at least 12 international organizations that have evaluated the literature and again and again they find homeopathy does nothing,” Giorshev, who also chairs the Ontario Medical Association’s section on chronic pain, said in an interview.
He said it’s unethical for an academic institution to teach students a program based on scientifically implausible principles and worries the public could ultimately be harmed by leading people to assume homeopathy is a valid form of medicine.
“This will likely result in patients delaying or even failing to seek effective health care for their ailments,” Giorshev wrote.
The Georgian College’s curriculum includes a discussion on the “role” of nosodes — homeopathic solutions some natural-health practitioners and anti-vaccine advocates claim can be used as alternatives to vaccines against measles, mumps, polio and other childhood diseases.
Three years ago, Ontario became the first province in the country to regulate the practice of homeopathy to widespread criticism the government was legitimizing “quackery.”
In a statement to the Post, Georgian College officials said its new diploma program, due to launch at its Barrie campus in the fall, “will provide students with the theoretical, practical and clinical skills necessary to graduate with the competencies required to successfully meet the entry to practice requirements of the regulator body,” the College of Homeopaths of Ontario. “Georgian is seeing strong interest in the program,” added Fay LimLambie, dean of health, wellness and science.
“As an educational institution we welcome critical discussion and debate,” she said. “It helps ensure the best possible curriculum and learning outcomes for our students.”
She added that, “in an era of patient choice, it is important for the college to provide students with the most diverse education possible, including options for care and different methods.”
A spokesperson for Matthews said Wednesday the minister had no comment.
Georgian College received funding approval for the program last August. “The board of governors of each college is responsible for approving programs of instruction,” said Tanya Blazina, of the ministry of advanced education.
Founded in 1796 by German doctor Samuel Hahneman, homeopathy is based on the philosophy “like cures like,” the theory that a substance that causes symptoms in a healthy person will cure those symptoms in a sick person.
The “active” agent is placed in water and ultradiluted; the more diluted, the higher its potency, the theory holds. But the final product becomes so “ridiculously diluted” it doesn’t contain a single molecule of the original substance in the final product, argues Joe Schwarcz, director of McGill University’s Office for Science and Society.
The theory is that with each dilution and shakings the water molecules somehow retain a memory or “imprint” of the original substance.
However, according to Schwarcz, “any talk about solutions having some sort of ‘memory’ is utter claptrap, and even if such memory would exist why should it have any therapeutic effect?” he said.
“The real danger in homeopathy is not toxicology — there’s nothing in there,” he added.
“The real danger is toxicity to the mind because it can convince people to go down this ridiculous route when there actually might be treatments that can work for whatever condition they have.”
He said it’s “unfathomable” public dollars are being spent on homeopathy when there have been calls by other countries to clamp down on the field.
After an extensive review, Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council concluded in 2015 “there are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective” and warned it should not be used to treat conditions that are “chronic, serious or could become serious.”
“It’s the air guitar of medicine,” pharmacist Scott Gavura wrote on his ScienceBased Medicine blog.
Homeopathy “goes through the motions of health care, and looks a bit like medicine, but actually accomplishes nothing at all.”
Chris MacDonald, who teaches ethics and critical thinking at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto, said it’s bad ethics when public money is being spent “to supposedly teach people how to do something that we know doesn’t work.”