Separate science from pseudo-science

The Spanish government has declared war on alternative medicine, announcing plans to eliminate from health centres what it considers a “health risk”. 

The move was prompted by several high-profile deaths, most notably that of a young man with leukemia who died after dropping his hospital treatment in favour of a “naturopath” who said he could cure cancer with vitamins.

This raises two issues: The regulation of alternative medicine practitioners and the control of herbal remedies which most people assume are safe but can produce side effects and can have an effect on other medicines being taken.

Unlike the norm in much of mainland Europe, anybody in Ireland can practise acupuncture and other forms of alternative medicine without effective regulation to control it. In France, only registered doctors can practise acupuncture.

While the position of the Spanish government smacks of overkill, it nonetheless highlights the acquiesence of many jurisdictions, Ireland included, in allowing the alternative medicine industry to flourish without effective regulation or safeguards.

In the longer term, we need to be better informed about all forms of alternative remedies so we can separate pseudo-science from the real thing.

Doing so is, after all — as the Spanish have found — a matter of life and death.

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