Jul 09 2008
According to news reports a 36 year old Australian woman allegedly died after being treated with ozone therapy for her pancreatic cancer. The practitioner who gave her this bogus treatment is now facing a hearing.
The story is a tragic one and reflects, in my opinion, the erosion of medical ethics that results from tolerating blatantly unscientific therapies, para-professionals, and alternate philosophies of healing. It is impossible to maintain a standard of care without an object basis for evaluating treatments, i.e. science. Also, as Paul Krugman said in another context but one that applies here also, “When the public believes in magic, it’s springtime for the con-artists.”
In this case the woman, out of desperation, sought the ministrations of a practitioners using ozone therapy. This is pure quackery – the claim that ozone (a molecule of three oxygen atoms) has special healing powers because it delivers a boost of oxygen to the tissues.
But the story gets more bizarre. The practitioner apparently had a habit of having his “patients” get undressed so he could photograph them. He also administered his ozone therapy vaginally. If these reports are accurate then this guy is using his quack treatment to lure and then sexually abuse his victims.
To be clear, I am not impugning ozone therapy because this one practitioner also allegedly happened to be a pervert. I am impugning ozone therapy because it is unscientific nonsense. It is actually unfortunate that this specific case is complicated by the sexual allegations. I would have been a better example of the risks and harm of quackery if it were just a case of giving false hope and an ineffective treatment to a desperate patient. It still is that – but the sexual angle is a distraction.
It is also true that pancreatic cancer is almost alway terminal and remains one of the cancers that is not effectively treated by mainstream medicine. In all likelihood this patient would have died within a year in any case. That does not excuse using a fraudulent treatment, however. First, it is likely that the young woman died more quickly because of complications of the treatment. Also, she was robbed of what life she had left and of proper palliative care.
Further, there are many cases where false hope lured patients away from very treatable cancers with high cure rates. (David Gorski relates a case over at science-based medicine.)
While this is a complex case, at its core is the tolerance of fraudulent and unscientific treatments.
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