Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Paul Benedetti is a journalist and author who taught journalism and critical thinking at the University of Western Ontario. Wayne MacPhail is a veteran journalist and emerging media consultant. They are the authors of Spin Doctors: The Chiropractic Industry Under Investigation. Timothy Caulfield is a Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta.

Belief in homeopathy simply won’t die. Despite the mountains of science that tells us it is bunk, advocates keep emerging – including, most recently, former federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, who wrote in support of it in November.

“In today’s world, people are more informed than ever and you need a compelling reason to remove their right to make decisions for themselves,” he wrote in an editorial in the Toronto Sun. “There are many alternative medical practices, old and new, that are providing treatment, comfort and relief to patients but that cannot be fully explained by science. They now need to be regulated in the public interest, not prosecuted on the pretense of protecting the public.”

Story continues below advertisement

That was an unfortunate and unhelpful misstep from a respected parliamentarian who, despite his reputation as a skilled debater and knowledgeable lawyer, has used a legalistic defence around “personal liberty” that puts vulnerable patients in harm’s way.

His appeal is a common refrain – not to mention an intuitively appealing one – in the alternative-medicine world. It seems logical: Consumers should have the right to choose whatever treatment they want for them and their children. Sounds reasonable.

It’s not.

First, homeopathy does not work. Period. It is a form of alternative medicine from the mid-19th century based on the law of infinitesimals. It claims that diluting a substance in water makes the substance more potent. In fact, many homeopathic remedies are so diluted that not one single molecule of the original substance exists in the product. There is not a shred of scientific evidence that supports the efficacy of homeopathic remedies and the laws of chemistry and physics make its claims impossible.

Second, this isn’t about freedom of choice.

Sick people are not like consumers shopping for a vacuum cleaner. They are ill, sometimes desperately so, and are faced with a decision based on complex medical and scientific data. They often have to trust health-care professionals and regulators, such as Health Canada, to help facilitate the provision of evidence-based information about risk and benefits. Informed choice is dependent on the availability of accurate information.

Unfortunately, there is currently a huge amount of misinformation circulating about many health products. Studies have consistently shown that online health information can be misleading, that people often do not access the most accurate and authoritative sites, and that many feel confused and frustrated about what health information to believe. It is no surprise that the World Health Organization has declared the spread of health misinformation, specifically around vaccines, a "major threat to global health.”

Story continues below advertisement

In the context of alternative medicine, people may be persuaded by dramatic testimonials, appeals to the naturalistic fallacy, fear-mongering about conventional medicine, false and misleading advertising and, unfortunately, personal endorsements by high-profile people. In addition, cognitive biases, such as an illusory belief in cause-and-effect, may influence how people evaluate the effectiveness of a therapy. People may believe it worked when, in fact, it was either the placebo effect or the simple fact that they would have gotten better on their own.

Yes, there are many problems with conventional medicine, including a lack of evidence for many commonly used therapies. But that is not a justification for an increased tolerance of other therapies that do not work. We need good science everywhere.

And good science proves that homeopathy simply does not work, because it cannot work. We don’t choose that reality; the laws of nature do. So contrary to Mr. Mulcair’s claim, the fact that homeopathy is still marketed as an effective therapy for a range of conditions highlights the need for stricter, rather than legitimizing, regulatory oversight. We need regulators and science-informed health professionals to ensure that people have access to accurate information and that unproven therapies are not inappropriately marketed to the public.

Indeed, allowing the provision of harmful, science-free, health misinformation erodes freedom of choice. The U.S.-based National Council Against Health Fraud has battled for years against the argument of “freedom of choice” being deployed around complementary and alternative medicine: "Consumers have only the illusion of free choice when they are led to make decisions based on false or misleading information that comes with quackery. There is no health freedom in what is based upon misinformed consent. When you’re being deceived, you’re not free to choose. And when your health is threatened, it’s especially difficult to be wary of quackery.”

People should have the right to choose the kind of care they want. But when a therapy is being represented in a manner that does not accord with the available evidence, or is harmfully misleading, regulators should step in to make sure that patients are protected from unproven therapies and misleading claims. Otherwise, their choice isn’t a choice at all.

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies