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Is alternative medicine effective? Show more Show less

Complementary or alternative medicine (CAM) is a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products for diagnosis, treatment and/or prevention which are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine. Complementary means to improve the effect of something and suggests a treatment that complements mainstream, orthodox treatment, whilst alternative means instead of. However, the terms are often used interchangeably.

Alternative medicine can cause serious harm Show more Show less

Some argue that if alternative medicine makes people feel better, it can’t do any harm. However, alternative medicine can cause significant damage.
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Alternative medicine prevents people from getting real medicine

People who believe strongly in alternative medicines sometimes avoid seeking traditional treatment because they believe alternative medicine will cure them.
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Context

The Argument

At first sight it may seems that given the infinitesimal quantities of diluted medicine "at least does not harm" the patient. However, there is strong evidence of people affected by serious illnesses, such as cancer or diabetes, who use homeopathy as an alternative to scientific drugs. This is extremely dangerous where people use these instead of potent and proven treatments such as chemotherapy or insulin. As a result, patients are exposed to unnecessary health risks that can result in avoidable fatalities. Almost 40% of Americans believe cancer can be cured through alternative therapies alone, despite evidence shows that people who use alternative therapies in place of standard cancer treatments have much higher death rates.[1] Death rates were five times higher for breast cancer, twice as high for lung cancer and a fourfold increase for colorectal cancer. People may delay cancer treatments to undergo an alternative therapy programme. Belief in the positive outcome of treatment is a a key part of therapy, making aversion to orthodox treatment more likely. Delaying cancer treatment allows the cancer cells to continue to rapidly divide and make cure much less likely. Ready exposure to incorrect information online makes this choice more likely.

Counter arguments

A conscientious alternative medicine practitioner should never suggest homeopathy as an alternative to scientifically proven drugs. If these treatments are recommended, they should only be used to complement the proven treatments. In these cases where it has been selected by a medical professional, the fault is not with the treatment, but in the misleading and dangerous behaviour of the human therapist. The issue of alternative medicine interfering with conventional medical practices is minimized when it is turned to only after conventional treatments have been exhausted.[2] A conscientious alternative therapist would never suggest their treatment as an alternative to traditional medicine for a serious condition.[3]

Framing

Premises

[P1] Belief in alternative medicine can cause people to delay use of orthodox medicine or not use it at all. [P2] Alternative medicine can cause active harm to users.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1] A responsible practitioner of alternative medicine would not suggest it as an alternative to using orthodox medicine.

Proponents

Further Reading

Johnson, S., Park, S., Gross, C. & Yu, J. (2018) Use of alternative medicine for cancer and its impact on survival. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 110(1) 121–124, doi.org/10.1093/jnci/djx145

References

  1. https://academic.oup.com/jnci/article/110/1/121/4064136
  2. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/placebo-effect
  3. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.colegn.2017.09.001

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This page was last edited on Wednesday, 15 Apr 2020 at 09:32 UTC