Kiki Havivy is one of alternative medicine's victims.
In January of 2011, 6-year old Kiki Havivy was diagnosed with brain cancer. It wasn't possible to surgically remove all of the tumor, so chemotherapy and radiation treatment were offered. The treatments would be painful, they might not work, and it's possible they would cause more harm. Cancer is hell; and the treatments terrible. Her parents faced a decision I wouldn't wish on anyone. There are really only two options: painful treatment where their daughter may die anyway, or palliative care to ease the symptoms but their daughter would almost certainly die. (Kiki's parents have never mentioned a palliative option, but I'm confident it was offered.)
Of course, there is a third option. You can wish for a miracle. Actual miracles are in short supply, but there is a thriving industry ready to sell fake miracles: alternative medicine. Kiki's parents faced a hard choice and were unwilling to make it. So they chose an "alternative treatment." Some unknown amount of time and money was spent on this alternative treatment, likely supplementing the income of an alternative medicine practitioner who is at best foolish and at worst an outright fraud. In doing so they delayed more effective treatment for Kiki and spent money that might have been spent on more effective treatment.
Six months later, the tumor is back. Six months of time and an unknown amount of money are gone. Instead of turning to actual medicine, they found a new practitioner of "alternative treatment." Expenses grew as they stayed in a hotel and gave money to scientifically unsupported treatment. Time and money that might have gone to actual medicine were squandered.
It's now two years later. Kiki's parents are still dabbling in alternative medicine, jumping from one practitioner to another as each one promises the miracle they still seek. Spiritual treatments in person and at distance, nutritional support, hyperbaric chambers, live cancer vaccines, and other treatments not covered by insurance. Not covered because there is no real evidence of effectiveness.
When one challenges alternative medicine, the response is frequently, "What's the harm?" The harm is what is happening to poor Kiki, whose chances for survival are long and getting longer. The harm is what is happening to Kiki's parents, who will likely be financially devastated in the end. The harm is more than $46,000 in donations, likely much more via other sources, that was wasted instead of being spend to actually help Kiki.
When a child is involved the defense is frequently, "If you were a parent, wouldn't you try everything?" That's exactly the sort of emotionally driven reasoning that these con artists alternative medicine practitioners rely on. They enrich themselves by harming others. It's like arguing that because you're so deep in debt that you need to try everything, so you wired $200 to Nigeria.
Alternative medicine is hurting all of us. It's wasting money that could be spend on more effective treatments, effective palliative care, or at least on something fun. It's wasting the most precious resource, time, time wasted on ineffective treatments, and time no longer available to seek effective treatments. It's providing false hope to people who need real support. It's driving people away from proven, safe tools like vaccines, leading to people dying of pertussis ("whooping cough") a disease we had defeated decades ago. The only people helped by alternative medicine are the practitioners who are either fools or con artists.
"By definition", I begin
"Alternative Medicine", I continue
"Has either not been proved to work,
Or been proved not to work.
You know what they call alternative medicine
That’s been proved to work?
— Tim Minchin, "Storm"
(Details about Kiki come from her parents via Support Kiki's Treatment Fund at GiveForward. See the "Details" tab and a variety of the "Updates.")
(Updated 2013-06-18: Minor edits.)
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