ONCE again the medical profession has made a mess of its relations with the public, and I’m not talking about Gisborne smear takers.

Little Liam’s folks have made a right monkey out of the doctors. The public have been right behind those brave oppressed parents who rescued their boy from those iniquitous cruel Dunedin chemotherapitsts.

If ever anyone needed a lesson in public relations, it was the Otago Healthcare authorities. Obviously they had to balance the child’s right to life-saving treatment against the wishes of the parents, just like they might when managing Jehovah’s Witnesses whose children need blood transfusions.

However such is public opinion on hospital treatment these days, it was predictable that public opinion was going to make the law into an ass.

Sadly, the specialists will almost certainly be proved right, as little Liam is unlikely now to survive this disease. Will this reduce the public confidence in “alternative treatment”? Not on your Nellie.

I write these articles by request long before publication, so this could already have been resolved by the time you read this, but it filled the entire front of Sunday Star Times on 9 May. Medicine still dominates the headlines.

Frank Haden came down to earth in the same paper on 21 March, when he said Liam’s parents were imagining that faith healing would help their son better than the best medical practice. But he was concerned with the large section of the community that believe therapy based on superstition against real medicine based on facts. His closing statement was “It’s time we grew up”.

He’s worth a read is Frank Haden. In his article in the Star Times on 21 February, when he was commenting on the senseless violent thumping of premature babies at National Women’s Hospital, which resulted in five deaths, he claimed instances of clumsiness, oversight, bad judgment, and faulty diagnosis are increasingly common.

We have doctors at Wellington Hospital, for heaven’s sake, condoning the mediaeval waving of crystals by jiggery-pokery practitioners who “centre themselves” before commencing their New Age antics, plunging their hands into patients’ nonexistent “auras”. Doctors I speak to about all this are typically on the defensive. They look po-faced, answering my questions woodenly and unwillingly, caught in the dilemma imposed by their professional code of honour: never speak ill of a colleague, even when you know the way he’s done his job falls short of the standards you impose on yourself.

Their loyalty is misguided and counter-productive. Doctors should be the quickest of all professionals to leap on a colleague who fails to meet standards. Their condemnation ought to be immediate and unforgiving. It should be as public as possible.

Brilliant advice Mr Haden, I just cannot improve upon it. But you can bet I’ll act on it as long as I have breath in my body, and ink in my pen. Roll on the next Skepsis article, I can’t wait to take down more of these flakes.

In a free country, I suppose you cannot prevent ordinary individuals making a buck out of a gullible public with magic. But doctors, trained scientifically at the taxpayers expense, hiding behind their qualifications are a different story. Quackery is alive and all too well in New Zealand. It is bad for patients, bad for the profession and I believe there should be, to use a nice current buzz phrase, zero tolerance.

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