Alternative MedicineSkepticism

Alternative Scmhalternative: Now It’s Personal

This is a series of short posts about some of the common (and annoying) arguments connected to the use of alternative medicine. And more importantly, why they’re wrong.

So I’m back to dissect another argument that frequently pops up in relation to alternative medicine. This is also a general argument, meaning that it doesn’t address any specific form of bogus. Still, it rears its ugly head time and again, and most often when the proponent has run out of any easily refutable scientific claims. Today we’re going to look at it’s a personal choice.

The argument of it’s a personal choice depends upon our right to bodily autonomy. We are in control of our own bodies and can do whatever we want, even try alternative medicine, the argument goes. And sure, I will – to some extent – agree with that. If people want to throw all of their money, time and energy on shams, then that is their right. That is, however, only if they know what they’re doing.

There are, in fact, a lot of people who try some form of alternative medicine without any good or unbiased information on the subject. They get some information from their alt med practitioner, of course. And since these practitioners are (usually) bound by no code of ethics, I’ll surmise that their word is worth exactly nil. That might not be as obvious to most people, especially when the practitioners try to emulate real doctors. As many governments are very lenient about striking down on alternative medicine, they are also free to make dubious medical claims for their practices. In other words, many people do not get enough information to give informed consent, meaning that they believe the effects of alt med to be very different from what they actually are.

Of course, there are also those who get dragged into alternative medicine without any form of consent, namely children. To be fair, not all of those infatuated by some form of alt med will argue using it on their children. Still, many see it as a right to decide what’s “best” for their children. Luckily, many countries have laws that force parents to seek proper medical care for their children. The parents do not own their children, and some forms of alt med may be very harmful for them, for those who are already sick in particular. One example is chiropractors who use neck manipulations, who have in several cases caused real harm.

So while people have a right to choose how to treat their medical ailments, this also implies an informed consent. People get sucked into alternative medicine for many different reasons; they might think that it is somehow more natural, or think that it actually works a lot better than conventional medicine. Without good sources for information, it’s so much easier to buy into that in the first place. Even if you call that a personal choice, it’s still one made for the wrong reasons.


Note: I haven’t mentioned that alternative medicine can have implications beyond that of a personal choice. Many forms are a hamper on resources that could be used elsewhere, like governmental funding. And that is a post for another day.

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Ine is a second-year university student who spends most of her time far north and in really, really bad weather. She has been interested in science for most of her life, and the enthusiasm for critical thinking has tagged along almost inevitably, which means that she often grumbles about creationism and other kinds of woo. When she has some spare time, Ine does taekwondo, draws and reads.

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