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Freedom to be Wrong

Entry 574, on 2007-07-17 at 17:32:10 (Rating 2, Comments)

Should people have the freedom to be wrong and to be ripped off by unscrupulous and misguided purveyors of products of zero or doubtful efficacy? And what about if there is a potential hazard in using the product? Should there be regulations protecting the consumer, or should it be up to free choice whether a person chooses to kill themselves or not? The reason I ask these questions is a bill which is being considered by the New Zealand parliament now which would regulate so-called alternative or complementary medicines and natural remedies and supplements.

Many people ask "what could possibly be wrong with taking these products, they are natural aren't they?" Well, there are several problems with that point if view. First, the word natural has a rather non-specific meaning. There is no widely accepted line between what is natural and what isn't. For example, is acetylsalicylic acid from willow bark natural, but the same chemical from a pharmaceutical company (aspirin) not? Second, even if we accepted what was natural that doesn't mean its safe. Hemlock is natural, does that mean I should drink it? Third, even is a product is natural and safe, does it work? There is almost no evidence that alternative remedies really work but they are still marketed as if they do. Finally, even is a product is natural, safe and works, the natural supplements tend to be of variable quality and strength so its hard to get the right dose.

It seems to me that if these products work as well as their manufacturers claim they should be happy enough to have some supervision and overview. And if they really care about providing good health to people then efficacy studies should be welcomed.

Of course, the reality is that in the majority of cases all that is really being considered is profit. These products often cost very little to make and require no expensive testing and little quality control so there are huge profits to be made from them. In fact large pharmaceutical companies often manufacture these products so the argument that the opposition to natural remedies comes from big conventional drug manufacturers doesn't stand up to much scrutiny.

The sooner there is some supervision of this pseudo-scientific nonsense the better in my opinion. If alternative medicines work they should be subjected to the same safeguards as "conventional" medicines. If we do find they work that's great but I'm fairly sure we'll find that 90% do absolutely nothing.

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Comment 3 (723) by Tamy on 2007-07-18 at 18:44:10: (view earlier comments)

Yep - that is what it really comes down to. People should be smart enough to make their own sensible decisions about things. But if they are not, I think they should be allowed to suffer the consequences. This is preferable to the option of government ruling our lives and taking away freedoms, one little bit at a time... I like being able to decide for myself how strong I want my supplements, etc.

About the garlic oil, the immediate relief does not come from instant healing, but rather the soothing effect of the warm oil. The garlic takes time to do its work. It's really stinky, though, LOL.

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Comment 4 (724) by OJB on 2007-07-18 at 20:06:55:

I sort of agree with you about the freedom to choose, but we are so regulated in every other area of life that just one more regulation, in an area where there is so great a chance of a bad outcome, doesn't seem too bad! And if conventional meds need regulation, then why shouldn't "alternative" meds - which often also have side-effects and other problems - be regulated too?

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Comment 5 (725) by Tamy on 2007-07-20 at 08:32:47:

Most of the stuff that I use could also fall under the category of "food" instead of "drug". Red raspberry leaves are more like lettuce than like ibuprofen, for instance. If my government were to start regulating the foods I purchase, well, I would have to move to another country!

Regulating our lives equals removing personal freedoms to make choices, and removing freedom equals oppression.

Besides, there is not so great a chance of a "bad outcome" and "side-effects" with my herbs and vitamins than there is with OTC and prescription drugs. My father recently had to change his prescribed diabetes med because they have found that the one he has been using increases chances of heart disease! Since he is already prone to heart disease, this is very scary to me. I'll stick to using foods and time-honored remedies, and I hope that I will always have the freedom to choose which ones I want to use for my family.

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Comment 6 (728) by OJB on 2007-07-20 at 09:30:49:

Yes, as I said, this is one area where I can see that both sides of the argument have good points. I agree with maximum freedom to choose, but also want controls over unscrupulous marketers of dangerous or ineffective products. Its a case of getting the right balance. I can see why you personally would want minimal controls, but perhaps you have a better understanding of what works and what doesn't than the average consumer.

The other factor is that the more effective the drug, the more likely it is to have major side effects. This applies to "natural" and "conventional" medicine. Diabetes is a serious disease (at least some forms are) and can't be effectively treated without drugs which are likely to lead to side effects. Natural remedies tend to be used for lesser ailments so they don't tend to suffer from the same problems.

The fact is that some natural remedies work for some medical conditions but the vast majority do nothing. If everyone was well informed there would be no problem but (at least in the western world) most people are taken in by manufacturers of alternative remedies which are there purely for profit.

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Comment 7 (731) by Tamy on 2007-07-21 at 10:36:28:

Yes, balance is indeed the key. But if government were to err, it should be on the side of freedom, not more regulation.

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