Bioethics Blogs

Conventional and non-conventional medicine and the Placebo Paradox

Alternative medicine is a trendy topic to discuss – both by despising and praising it in a contradictory manner. But there is something controversial in the categorical critique towards it. The controversies and fallacies in the categorical praise are much elaborated and I will mostly leave aside that part.

Firstly, the term “alternative medicine” is very vague in the popular discussion.  The sharpest point in the discussion concerns mostly homeopathy, which is based on the idea of “like cures likes” and preparing remedies by diluting a chosen substance in alcohol or distilled water (a very brief definition). Homeopathy has been repeatedly proven to be a non-scientific method and not having actual effects on patients – for example according to the recent NHMRC review. The review received some critique which is answered for example here.

However, it seems that the discussion about “homeopathy” is often not limited to the “like cures like -diluting” method. Instead, this method, based on a very implausible scientific theory, is mixed with many other categories that belong to the vague area of “alternative medicine”. The latter term is much broader. It can be defined as any practice that is put forward as having the healing effects of medicine, but is not founded on evidence gathered using the scientific method. When looked at the list what can be included to alternative medicine (or complementary medicine, if used together with conventional medical treatment), we find a long list. Examples include -in addition to homeopathy- massage, herbal remedies, exercise, lifestyle counseling, meditation, relaxation, acupuncture, and art therapy.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.