But first up, some good news for consumer protection in Australia.
Today’s alternative medicine smack-down comes to you courtesy of a sceptical colleague, Michael, who submitted a complaint to our government regulator, The Complaints Resolution Panel, several months ago. Michael’s complaints pertained to a homeopathy website, arnicamontana.com.au which was spruiking all manner of dubious products and making equally dubious claims.
Arnica Montana sell homeopathic first aid kits, homeopathic remedies for emergencies, makes claims that homeopathy is useful for serious health conditions and also tow the anti-vax line, in articles promoting the AVN and bragging about refusing the whooping cough vaccine.
This week Michael was advised that all his complaints were upheld and as a result, Arnica Montana were instructed to comply with the following sanctions: Withdrawal of Advertisement, Withdrawal of Representation and Publication of Retraction.
Regular listeners to the Zone may remember I called these people out back in February, just after the Victorian bush fires, after a listener alerted me to a passage on their website which said the following;
“In the light of recent events in Bali and the bush fires in the Eastern States of Australia information about the use of Homeopathy by the ordinary person is knowledge that should be shared.”
I called this claim offensive, not only to the deceased in Bali and Victoria, but also to the skilled health professionals working tirelessly with the burns victims using medicine and science, not magic water. Indeed, these particular claims were questioned by Michael and upheld by The Panel. You can see the full list below.
The advertiser was given an opportunity to respond to the criticisms, and rejected the allegation that there was “anything deceptive or misleading” in the advertisement/website. They claimed that the website was “intended to be an information website to educate the public about the use of homeopathic remedies” but not to the exclusion of any other system of medicine.
But the Panel deemed the website breached sections of the code which prohibit advertisements for products that;
“abuse the trust or exploit the knowledge of consumers” and was “likely to arouse unwarranted and unrealistic expectations of product effectiveness”.
This was based on the panel’s finding that “….no persuasive evidence was provided that the advertised products could have benefits in relation to the wide range of conditions referred to”.
In response the advertiser stated that “controlled trials cannot be used for homeopathy but [that] there is a mass of unpublished evidence”. (Is this because when they are used, they almost always turn up negative?).
In any case, there have testimonials all over the website…isn’t this evidence enough? Not for the Panel, who also called these into question, by stating that the advertiser did not provide evidence that any of the testimonials in the advertisement were genuine.
According to the advertising code; testimonials “must be documented, genuine, not misleading and illustrate typical cases only”. The panel cited this testimonial as an example of a breach;
“the calendula cream I make is specific to cancer skin keratoses and I have successfully treated many of these and established melanonas by using the sage cream at night and the calendula during the day”.
Overall, Michael received 9 pages of correspondence and I waded through all of it, which I’m very glad I did because buried deep in the text was this.
The Panel noted that the advertisement breached section 4(5) of the code; “..by implying that other therapeutic goods (namely vaccines and sunscreens) could be harmful….”
So it is unlawful to imply that other therapeutic goods are harmful, like vaccines? I wonder where this places the AVN? (Although given that they do not sell therapeutic goods, to the best of my knowledge, then I don’t think they are breaching this section of the code). This is a very interesting piece of legislation and one that I will file away for future reference.
One of the big things about the decision was that The Panel deemed the entire website to be an advertisement.
Since it was clear that the website offered a range of products for sale, the Panel was satisfied it constituted an advertisement for therapeutic goods. Interestingly, the complaint summary cites the subject matter of the complaint as “website advertisement” and the sanctions as “withdrawal of advertisement”, thus implying the entire website is to be withdrawn. If you go to the website, you will see the published retraction, but the remainder of the website still functions as normal. I wonder when and if we will see the entire website removed.
Not a very happy UK homeopathy week for some…
The tragic death of a toddler in a freak accident at an alt-med clinic.
What makes this story even more sad is that the death occurred in the Favira clinic in Adelaide, which is the home of Elvira Brunt, an alternative therapist who claims to be able to cure cancer with massage. More on this is a moment, but reports say the 18-month-old girl was crushed to death by a massage table while her mother was being treated.
A police inspector who attended the scene said; “A young, 18-month-old child, a girl, has died as a result of being trapped in a component of a massage table…the child was under the table when it started to be lowered.”
Regular readers might remember the Favira alternative medicine clinic from a previous Dr Rachie when I mentioned that she has advised the father of a young girl with leukemia to feed her KFC to get her kidneys functioning again. A current parliamentary enquiry in South Australia had received several submissions from members of the public about the dubious practices of Ms Brunt. Tragically, the enquiry is ongoing, hence Elvira Brunt is still practicing.
On the same day that the child died the Enquiry into Bogus, Unregistered and Deregistered Health Practitioners report named Elvira Brunt, as a person of interest, for allegedly claiming she could cure cancer through abdominal massage, encouraging patients to stop normal treatment and requiring cash payments for services.
Other alternative therapists to be “named and shamed” were ELIZABETH GOLDWAY, for allegedly saying she could cure cancer, charging thousands of dollars for treatment and not providing receipts. MONICA MILKA, for allegedly claiming she could cure cancer with injections to “kill the worms” that were causing the problem. LUBOMIR BATELKA, who allegedly subjected a patient to “vaginal blowing” with an ozone therapy machine, saying it offered a “50 per cent cure” for cancer.
The member of parliament, Ian Hunter who tabled the report said;
“While some . . . practitioners may be delusional – convinced they are able to cure serious medical conditions – the evidence presented to the committee suggested that others are driven by greed and, in some cases, sexual gratification.” “The committee heard shocking stories from people who said their loved ones had been exploited when they were at their most vulnerable, who were given false hope and who wasted thousands of dollars on bogus treatments,” he said.
The committee stated while most practitioners were ethical, proper regulation, monitoring, and exposure of unethical behaviour was needed. The committee recommended the State Government establish legislation, similar to the code of conduct introduced in New South Wales last year, to regulate health practitioners and mechanisms to monitor them.
Although it seems likely that Elvira Brunt will be banned from practicing eventually, it will be too little too late for many, including now an 18-month-old girl. You can read the full story here.