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    Quackery U. - the birth of a nightmare in Hamilton, Ontario

    The first week of May, 2000 was not a week of a full moon, but you could have fooled me. Pinch me, this must be Kansas, or Tijuana, or Phoenix.

    When the Hamilton Spectator finally got around to covering the story about the $100 million windfall of pork barrel money headed their way, we were all sleeping.

    I was invited to submit an article for the op-ed page of the Spectator for Saturday, May 6, 2000.


    The plight of alternative medicine is in the hands of our politicians, who feel that the "ethnic" vote is once more in charge of our health care system.

    A few days after the announcement of the proposed $100 million Complementary medicine school was covered in the Canadian press, I was visited by a young woman, let's call her Jane. In my humble opinion, she has been victimized by not one, but by two "certified" naturopaths. They have prevented her from receiving medical help for her condition.

    Jane says that she suffers from IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). It's a very vague and bothersome condition that is often a prime target for medical quacks. She is basically house-bound because she says her abdominal pains are so bad. She can't hold a job, despite three years of college because she is afraid that her condition controls her.

    Desperate for help, and having gone from doctor to doctor, she finally ended up at the office of a mature naturopathic practitioner in a major university city in Ontario.

    The naturopath charged her several hundred dollars for his evaluation, after which he sold her herbs and vitamins from his office. She cringed in pain when she thought of what he told her to do. He asked her to simply take 25 acidophilus capsules a day to replace her missing bowel flora.

    Where her missing flora went to this day, I don't know. When that made her "bloated" and grumpy she went to a second naturopath who told her to cut it down to 2 per day. The first visit lasted three hours and he charged her only $125. I guess that it must have been a slow day.

    Oh yes, he also told her to stop taking her birth control pills, a medical decision that he had no right to make.

    She went back to naturopath #2 a few times to make fine adjustments in her acidophilus level, I guess. Those visits only lasted about 90 minutes each and only cost her $50. This young naturopath, educated no doubt at the Canadian Naturopathic College in Toronto, again made her dependent on him, so much so that he restricted her diet to just baby food. She lost 10 pounds in a few weeks.

    So, she went back to her family doctor who finally sent her to see a gastroenterologist and a registered dietitian. Tomorrow she is scheduled for an ultrasound, and other tests are to follow.

    Those tests should have been scheduled months ago, but her naturopaths were her advisors. They took her off her birth control pills, they made her dependent on their "in-depth investigations", which amounted to nothing more than hours and hours of chats, including I might add, a $20 per phone call charge, to just check in. None of this of course was covered by OHIP, ....YET.

    Jane should have been cared for by a licensed medical doctor or registered dietitian, not someone who is in business to sell them herbs, vitamins and acidophilus.

    If the government of Canada thinks that their $100 million giveaway to establish a centre to teach naturopathy, iridology, aromatherapy, remote healing, shamanism, homeopathy and more in downtown Hamilton is a great idea, one that would appease the ethnic vote, they should ponder the costs to the public's purse if Jane's story is repeated over and over again. She's not Chinese or Korean, she's not aboriginal, she's just an ordinary Canadian. To paraphrase a recent commercial, SHE IS CANADIAN.

    Jane needs to rely on health information based on science, not on some questionable electrodermal testing device, or applied kinesiology flim-flam operator who sits around his/her office reading the latest Burton Goldberg article, or has Hulda Clark tapes playing on the monitor in their waiting room.

    McMaster University is the seat of some of the most innovative medical minds in Canada. It prides itself in evidenced based medicine. Their researchers are in the forefront of testing what works and what doesn't work.

    What many see here is a politician's dream, only it will turn into a nightmare for tens of thousands of Canadians who may be convinced that quackery can be changed into science because the government of Canada is behind it.

    Sheila Copps, your MP, says that she takes her echinacea and "might" take evening primrose oil. Do I hear a little bit of hesitation here? When Allan Rock, our Minister of Health, first announced the possible funding of an alternative medical research facility for Hamilton a few months ago, most of the reports I read indicated that it would be a place for academics to study whether any of this bunk worked at all.

    The politicians have now clouded the vision of an academic institution that would be geared to evaluate and test many alternative health practices. The facility would turn the old downtown courthouse into a centre that would once and for all see if alternative health practices had merit, and what side effects they might have. Instead, we will see downtown Hamilton turned into another Tijuana, Mexico, or Phoenix, Arizona.

    Build it, and they will come, says Copps and Mills, and now Rock. Take the words "Complementary" in one newspaper article and turn it into "Comprehensive" in yet another. Tweak them a little, and voila, you have either a typo, or we have been hoodwinked, snookered, and/or possibly lied to by the government.

    Billions of dollars are being spent every year by victims of health and diet fraud in this country. The government does next to nothing to protect consumers. This entry into the world of Quackery will provide even more food for the vultures who prey on the frail, the ignorant and the desperate.

    Health Canada's new web site is totally devoid of even the mention of the word quackery, you can't find a single link anywhere to consumer groups like mine, who expose health fraud. The politicians are playing the public for all they are worth, but unfortunately their promotion of quackery will cause grave harm to the public's health.

    There are many scientists across Canada who follow the trends in alternative medicine around the world. They see their research dollars drying up, their colleagues leaving this Province to go south, taking their minds with them. When leading academics find that the government of Canada is willing to spend $100 million on some pork barrel quack infested former courthouse, they will leave in droves.

    We call on the science faculty at McMaster to examine the implications of their training programs that will be diluted, their prestige gone, and their finest minds who will set their sites elsewhere. The fight against pseudo science that we have witnessed at York University in their battle to block the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College from attaching itself to this school should be a warning to all.

    We ask that the politicians postpone any funding that supports quackery until our high standards of medical care are again made a priority. Let's make sure that the thousands of Janes in this Province are served by the best clinicians, diagnostic equipment, and caregivers that we can provide.

    If what I hear is right, the government has put on blinders, earplugs, and ignored the facts. There is nothing Complementary or Comprehensive about quackery. It is just another way to dilute the very precious resources that we have.

    If the Ontario government wants to hand out money to each taxpayer because of a budget surplus, I suggest that they pass the hat for some Common Sense Revolutionaries in this Province to SAY NO TO QUACKERY.

    Without the cooperation of Elizabeth Witmer and the Ontario Ministry of Health, this White Elephant of Quackery U. will never get off the ground.

    We don't need crystal ball readers and pendulum swingers, we need radiation therapists. We don't need applied kinesiologists, we need registered nurses. We don't need herbologists, we need toxicologists. We don't need Essiac, we need chemotherapists.

    We'd all like to see Hamilton rise above the smoke and ashes like a Phoenix, but putting Quack University in downtown will only start a fire that will engulf not only downtown, but it may spread to the entire country.

    Terry Polevoy, M.D., FRCP(C)

    Helpful links or Blind Alleys?

    • Allan Rock's press releases - Funny, I can't find a single mention about any school in Hamilton anywhere in his press releases. Why is that?
    • Health Canada's new web site - I can't find more than one reference to quackery on this web site, and there are no links to,, or any other consumer organization concerned with health or medical fraud.