Vancouver Sun

Col­lege pro­gram panned as ‘mag­i­cal think­ing’

Crit­ics ques­tion On­tario school’s new course

- Sharon KirKey


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.”

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