An oxymoron is defined as the use of two contradictory words in the same phrase. The classic example is ‘military intelligence ‘. One hundred years ago, at the height of the First World War, military intelligence was indeed oxymoronic. Red-tabbed colonel blimps, , with nary a backward glance, sent legions of young men from the back streets of the cities of Great Britain, its countryside and the cities and farms of the Commonwealth countries to certain death in the mincing machines, called trenches, in Flanders. Today military intelligence officers are likely to have first class degrees from distinguished universities along with masters degrees in political history. Recently, the press reported a story about the egregious Andrew Wakefield and his film entitled ‘Vaxxed ‘. It has been screened at the College of Homeopathic Education. Now there is a wonderful example of a triple oxymoron.
I do not believe that there is anything about homeopathy that requires education or can be described as educational. That being the case, how can there possibly be a college, in the real world, devoted to homeopathic education? The whole phrase makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
Homeopathy is a purported medical system that believes that like cures like. Moreover, its adherents hold that the smallest possible amount of ‘like’ is the most potent remedy. Homeopathic practitioners take a gram of active constituent and dilute it in a litre of water. They then take 1 mL of the solution and further dilute it in another litre of water. They then repeat the process several times until they end up with fluid which likely does not contain one single molecule of the original constituent. A person in full possession of his senses might ask how a dose of such a weak solution could be in any way effective. Homeopathic practitioners have a ready answer for this conundrum. They maintain that water retains a ‘memory ‘of the active constituent. There is absolutely not one smidgen of scientific evidence to bear this out. By the way, if water can retain a ‘memory’ of the active principle introduced by the homeopathic pharmacist, why then could it not retain a memory of every single other substance it has ever come in to contact with? That being so, then no one would have the slightest idea of what was actually being administered.
Whereas I believe homeopathy to be absolute, coppe- bottomed balderdash, I do not deny that homeopathic physicians can do some good. I am told that they take very careful histories and conduct thorough examinations. Physicians that practice thus are well on the way to success in many cases. Patients are reassured by such care. An integral part of most modern medical transactions is a careful and kindly interaction with the physician followed by the giving and receipt of a prescription. This medical ritual by itself has therapeutic effect. As to the efficacy of the prescription given, that is another question.
A patient, who presents himself to a homeopath with a self-limiting condition, likely to get better with or without treatment, or with a psychosomatic problem and who, receives a prescription, will almost certainly prosper regardless of what is ordered. Not much harm will ensue. It is when the homeopaths step outside the boundaries of dealing with patients who are not gravely ill and offer their remedies to treat such serious illnesses as malaria or instead of vaccination offer ’nosodes’ – essentially sugar pills – that we all have the right to be concerned. And that brings me back to Andrew Wakefield.
He was formerly a consultant paediatric gastroenterologist and researcher practising in the United Kingdom. Twenty years ago he published a paper which suggested that the triple vaccine (MMR) museums against mumps rubella and measles caused autism in in a significant number of children. His studies involved various invasive procedures. He published a paper in the Lancet, which was subsequently withdrawn when it was realised that he had falsified his data. He was struck off the medical register in the UK and he fled to the United States, where he continued to preach about the evils of childhood vaccination. He has recently produced ‘Vaxxed’, a movie about the perils of vaccination and has travelled about trying to have it shown.
Vaccinations have been shown to be most effective against many serious conditions. Indeed, smallpox once a serious ravage and killer has been entirely eliminated through the adoption of widespread vaccination. Poliomyelitis, a dreadful disease, aka infantile paralysis, has likewise been virtually eliminated. There are two or three pockets of this disease still extant in backward Muslim countries: Northern Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Measles, rubella, and mumps, once very common childhood scourges now are relatively rare. In many children these illnesses cause a two or three-week period of fever and malaise but in some can lead to very unpleasant long-lasting consequences. Where vaccination levels are high, these diseases are extremely rare. I have personally dealt with outbreaks of smallpox in Nigeria and saw what an unpleasant business it was. I have also seen several cases of unnecessary blindness brought about by such illnesses as measles and chickenpox during my time in Israel, almost all of which would never have occurred if the sufferers had been fully vaccinated in infancy.
There is no medical procedure which is entirely safe. The administration of various vaccines is often associated with some relatively mild side-effects: fever, malaise and soreness at the injection site. None lasts more than a few days. On the other hand, the consequences of the disease is that vaccinations are intended to prevent can result in lifetime disability. Human beings engage in all kinds of activities which can have negative consequences: riding in motor cars, smoking, drinking alcohol, the use of illicit drugs and so on. They are somehow prepared to accept the well-publicised risks of such behaviour. Perversely, many resist having their children vaccinated, which behaviour, in my opinion, amounts to neglect. Such neglect has consequences for the population as a whole, for it is well known that where vaccination levels are high, approaching 90 to 95%, then the risk of contracting the so-called childhood fevers is low because the herd immunity is high. Where parents refuse to have their children vaccinated, herd immunity declines and the risk of serious illness to all children is increased.
So, I have rambled from oxymoron to vaccination and have taken in Andrew Wakefield and homeopathy on the way. I must try to be more focused in future, but I hope you have enjoyed the ride.
March 5 2017