by a veterinary surgeon from Essex.
Some time ago on Radio 4 a case was presented to the medical GP presenter of a programme on veterinary alternative care by a well-known homeopath. The cat had been diagnosed by a conventional vet over a year previously with hyperthyroidism. For reasons that were unclear, conventional treatment was not initiated, but the homeopath had been treating it instead. Now the case was presented to our GP presenter and the classic features of hyperthyroidism were enumerated to him by the VetFFHom: emaciation, greasy coat, tachycardia. Simultaneously, the homeopath was receiving the thankful praise of the cat's owner, for what, at best, may be described as the cat's continued existence. Because the homeopaths tend to restrict themselves to cyclical and spontaneously remitting cases, it is difficult to ever comment on their anecdotal observations. Hyperthyroidism is however a condition in which conventional treatments are close to 100% effective, at least in the medium-term, so a single treatment-failure may genuinely reflect poorly on the treatment itself, but the situation presented by this case is even more stark, we do not need to debate whether the response to treatment was real, coincidental or placebo-effect, because there had been NO clinical response to treatment, yet the animal's clinical state was being portrayed as an example of a treatment-success. Clearly if we claim every failure as success then we will never be wrong, an unbeatable strategy.
I was concerned enough about this case to email the homeopath concerned. The correspondence proceeded as follows:
From: "***** *****" <*****@****.*****.com> To: <****@****.*********.co.uk> Sent: 30 November 2002 16:28 Subject: Radio 4 with Graham Easton Dear Mr ***, I have recently recalled your appearance on a Radio 4 programme presented by Graham Easton in which you demonstrated to him a cat with hyperthyroidism. While showing him all the classical features of a severe, untreated case you seemed to be taking the credit from the cat's owner for its survival. Have I misunderstood the situation? If not, I wonder whether you could explain your criteria for success. Were the cat's thyroid hormone levels reduced? Why were its clinical signs still present so that it made it such a nice example of an untreated case? Owners who elect no treatment for their animals should expect the cat to survive many months post-diagnosis, mere continuation of life is not evidence that the treatment was effective. My experience of animals who receive homeopathic treatment is that they are usually suffering diseases having a variable natural history that often waxes and wanes so that on an individual case basis neither conventional nor alternative medicine can easily claim credit for improvement. However in the case that I have cited, you seemed to be claiming benefit when the evidence exactly contradicted that assessment yet conventional medicine expects most such cases to respond very straightforwardly in response to either medical or surgical treatment. I await your reply with interest ** *****
A couple of weeks later I received the following reply:
From: "**** ***" <****@****.*********.co.uk> Date: Fri Dec 13, 2002 8:52:30 AM Europe/London To: "***** *****" <*****@****.*****.com> Subject: Re: Radio 4 with Graham Easton apologies for delay been away 18 days and returned last night to 500+ e-mails. Please can you help me to recall the case you mention. To discuss a case on radio seems a tricky thing to do, at the best of times. Besides which, I am not one to go around 'claiming success'. I look forward to hearing from you. Yours - **** ***
I replied the same day:
From: ***** ***** <*****@****.*****.com> Date: Fri Dec 13, 2002 8:36:28 PM Europe/London To: "***** ***" <****@****.*********.co.uk> Subject: Re: Radio 4 with Graham Easton My original e-mail contained all the details I can recall, so perhaps I should ask a straight hypothetical question instead. Should thyroid hormone concentrations be normalised on treatment with homeopathy? ***** * *****
I never received a reply to this, so the question was left in the air.
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