Which Alternative Therapies is it Ethical To Sell?
Then just this week, a committee of the House of Commons concluded that the government should no longer pay for homeopathic treatments. Here’s a bit more detail, from The Guardian: MPs criticised homeopathy this week. What’s their evidence?
This week, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee published a report criticising government policy on homeopathy, saying that homeopathic remedies should no longer be funded by the NHS or licensed by the drug safety watchdog.
The committee discussed evidence from all kinds of sources, including the Department of Health, the British Homeopathic Association, the British Medical Association, Boots, doctors and scientists, NHS trusts, the UK’s drug safety watchdog, NICE, campaigning groups, and the Advertising Standards Authority.
The committee’s report is highly critical of homeopathy. It recommends that placebos should not be routinely prescribed by the NHS, that the NHS shouldn’t fund homeopathic hospitals, and that doctors shouldn’t refer patients to homeopaths. According to the Society of Homeopaths, current NHS funding for homeopathy runs to £4 million each year….
Homeopaths and their customers, not surprisingly, have been up in arms, shocked that very idea that the government might end funding for the form of treatment the believe in so fervently. The fact that the Committee pointed to an absence of Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs) showing that homeopathy works is taken by defenders of homeopathy as evidence of a too-narrow view of what counts as evidence.
But let’s set homeopathy aside. (Please, seriously!)
Let’s ask the question more generally: what evidence should be required in order for a government insurance scheme (or any other insurance scheme I guess) to pay for a particular treatment modality? Should RCTs be required? Or is some lesser form of evidence sufficient? How much evidence is enough? How little evidence is too little?
Or, since this is The Business Ethics Blog, let’s ask it this way: which products is it ethical for a pharmacy to sell? Should pharmacies only sell remedies supported by RCTs? Or is consumer demand the only standard that matters?
Presumably defenders of homeopathy don’t think that the government should fund literally every therapy that someone claims is useful. There have to be some standards. Likewise, surely defenders of homeopathy don’t think that pharmacies should sell literally every product claimed (by someone) to have some therapeutic value. If I were to think up a “cure for cancer” while in a drunken stupor, surely my new “discovery” shouldn’t be sold in pharmacies just because I think it’s a cool idea. So, what generalizable principle do fans of homeopathy recommend for sorting this out?
A note about posting comments:
Sorry, but I will not approve comments that don’t at least try to answer the question above. If you love homeopathy or hate it, that’s fine, but save it for another blog entry. Sorry, skeptics, that means there’s likely little for you to contribute here. My question is aimed at the believers. Likewise, comments about how “homeopathy worked for me!” are off-topic, here.