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SIR, – On August 20, The Veterinary Record published a studiously neutral review of homeopathy in veterinary practice (Hektoen 2005). Ironically, only a week later The Lancet dared to reach a conclusion on the subject (in human medicine): ‘Surely the time has passed for selective analyses, biased reports, or further investment in research to perpetuate the . . . debate. Now doctors need to be bold and honest with their patients about homoeopathy’s lack of benefit . . .’ (Editorial, August 27).
Attempts to achieve even-handedness often lead to disproportionate credibility being accorded to the weaker side, and this is evident in Dr Hektoen’s paper. Despite acknowledging that homeopathy is not rational, she appears to accept the homeopaths’ glib explanations of similars and potentisation, and to suggest we look favourably on the practice based solely on ‘the public interest and the positive experience that clients and therapists clearly indicate having’. What about the experiences of the animals?, one might ask.
The lengthy reference list mainly cites proponent publications, omitting the papers describing credible controlled trials of homeopathy in veterinary patients, all four of which report no difference between treated and control groups (Taylor and others 1989, Scott and others 2002, de Verdier and others 2003, Holmes and others 2005). The third of these concludes, ‘In the European Union this implies a considerable risk for animal welfare, since in some countries priority is given to homeopathic treatments in organic farming.’
Also omitted was an examination of homeopathic provings, which were erroneously stated to involve giving ‘material doses of the substance . . . to healthy individuals’, when in fact these are performed with the same extreme dilutions used for treatment. The process often lacks control subjects and is never properly blinded, with much of the output relating to emotional and psychological matters. The extrapolation of these subjective experiences to animal patients is a paradox of veterinary homeopathy, as remedies are never proved on animals.
Essentially, homeopathy is a narrative exercise. An extensive repertoire of explanations has been developed, with anything that might happen following the administration of a remedy (including deterioration) being covered in terms of the remedy ‘working’. Inevitably, positive perceptions are reported, as almost any experience is capable of being interpreted as positive.
This review invokes special pleading for an admittedly non-scientific method based on the fact that some very vocal and enthusiastic people seem to like it, together with an exaggerated view of the value of the placebo effect. In human medicine, a positive change in the attitude of the patient may arguably be a genuine benefit. However, what benefit can it be to an animal to apply rose-coloured spectacles to its owner?
Is it not now time to join with The Lancet in calling for an end to the ‘politically correct laissez faire attitude’, and remember that we are a scientific profession, concerned with objective benefits for our patients, rather than with popularity and turf protection?
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