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Prince Charles Alternative Medicine Charity Closes

The Princes Foundation for Integrated Health closed shop in 2010. Now the company that ran the foundation has officially closed. The foundation was a vanity project by Prince Charles, who had a soft spot for so-called alternative medicine and natural therapies. The foundation was established in 1993 and in the last 19 years has misinformed the public about CAM therapies, promoted nonsense like homeopathy, and has been an official royal seal of approval on the anti-science in medicine movement in the UK.

In short the foundation was an excellent example of why political ideology should not interfere with the normal process of science. The website for the charity no longer exists, but this is what it said about it’s mission:

“The Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health is a UK charity championing an integrated approach to health.

“The Foundation works towards a culture of health and wellbeing with people and communities taking more responsibility for their own health, and where health professionals collaborate and share learning in the best interests of their patients.

“Integrated health means an approach to health which:

  • “emphasises prevention and self-care
  • “looks at the person in the round, taking into account the effects on health of lifestyle, environment and emotional wellbeing
  • “brings together the safest and most effective aspects of mainstream medical science and complementary healthcare.”

This is typical CAM bait and switch. Preventive medicine, healthy lifestyles, and taking a complete approach to health is not alternative or complementary – it is part of mainstream science-based medicine. All of that is actually a misdirection from the real goal of the CAM or “integrative” movement – to promote health products and services that fail to meet minimal standards of evidence and plausibility, or which have already been shown to be ineffective. The Prince’s Foundation was not exception, promoting over the years every form of quackery from homeopathy to Reiki.

Perhaps the best criticism of the foundation came from Edzard Ernst who wrote:

He seems to think that the nation should be force-fed on alternative medicine today, while research into these treatments might be conducted some time in the future. I, on the other hand, have often pointed out that research has to come first; it should sort out the wheat from the chaff and, subsequently, we might consider integrating those treatments that demonstrably generate more good than harm. I therefore think that the FIH has become a lobby group for unproven and disproven treatments populated by sycophants.

Of course – integrating therapies proven by science is called science-based medicine. Edzard correctly points out that the purpose of the CAM category is to put practice before evidence, and even to go against the evidence, or redefine what should pass for evidence in medicine.

There was some speculation about what the company might do in the wake of the Foundation’s closing, but that has now ended with the demise of the company that funded the charity. When the Foundation closed in 2010 it was amid an embezzlement scandal. Although the Foundation claimed it was planning on closing because it had achieved it objective, and just sped up the timetable because of the allegations. But now those allegations have killed the sponsoring company. The Mail online reports:

The revelation led to the foundation’s finance director George Gray, 50, being jailed for three years for embezzling the sum over two years.

Southwark Crown Court heard how Gray regularly transferred up to £5,000 a time from the charity into his bank account to cover payments on his £700,000 mortgage.

It is heartening to see an organization dedicated to anti-science in medicine go under, but it is a shame that it took an unrelated scandal to do it. It would have been better if the Foundation closed because people finally came to their senses.

In the US we have our own versions of the Prince’s Foundation, namely the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA). The NCCAM is a vanity project of its major sponsor, Senator Tom Harkin, as much as the Prince’s Foundation was a project of Prince Charles. Likewise DSHEA was the result of the personal ideology of two senators, Harkin and Orin Hatch. The misnamed DSHEA essentially deregulated the supplement industry, leading to an explosion of dubious products, an expansion of the multi-billion dollar supplement industry, and all without a bit of evidence that there has been any benefit to the health of Americans. In fact, it is possible (and I think it’s likely) that there has been net harm.

It is unfortunate that a few politically powerful individuals can have such a disproportionate influence on an issue as important as health care. It is also generally not a good thing when politics or ideology are used to trump science – and that, at its core, is what CAM is.

Posted in: Public Health

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10 thoughts on “Prince Charles Alternative Medicine Charity Closes

  1. cervantes says:

    Just wondering if people have made any serious effort to start a dialogue with Harkin (Hatch is a less promising target I think) and maybe help him clarify his thinking on this matter.

  2. David Gorski says:

    No idea. Harkin is actually an interesting case. If you ask people at the NIH about him, you’ll quickly find that they love him because they view him as a champion for medical research funding. And, by measures other than NCCAM, he is. He fights to protect and expand the NIH budget, for instance:

    http://www.researchamerica.org/app/webroot/blog/?p=754
    http://www.profilesofpromise.com/foreword

    Unfortunately, I’m sure that it is at least in part because Harkin has been such a champion for biomedical research funding that the NIH kowtows to him with respect to NCCAM. NIH leaders don’t want to alienate one of their biggest supporters in Congress. The problem with Harkin, of course, is that along with the good (fighting for the NIH as a whole) comes the bad (creating and protecting NCCAM). NCCAM might just be the price that has to be paid to maintain Harkin’s support for the NIH as a whole.

  3. pmoran says:

    In short the foundation was an excellent example of why political ideology should not interfere with the normal process of science.

    And

    It is also generally not a good thing when politics or ideology are used to trump science – and that, at its core, is what CAM is.

    (Going “in for the sheep”, since my nuisance rating is presumably already at some kind of peak at present. )

    Prince Charles also had a “political ideology” now? It had nothing to do with being brought up with CAM and strongly believing it “worked” for his family?

    And politics and ideology are the “core” of CAM? I can think of some instances where politics helps foster it, for example if a politician happens to represent a state containing a lot of supplement manufacturing plants, and if CAM lobbyists obtain favorable legislation..

    But think cancer quackery, which is clearly mainly driven by unmet medical needs and the power of the personal testimonial. Take away all the politics and all the ideology and ban quacks you would still have people on crazy diets and munching on apricot kernels because someone said it might help.

    CAM has always been primarily a grassroots activity, helped along by elements of fraud and delusion. Politicians collude mainly though a responsiveness to grassroots protestations such as “it worked for me”. I suspect ideology stems from the same basic sources but it is by no means clear which ideology or ideologies you are referring to. Most CAM users and supporters have none, or nothing that merits mention as major motivation.

    Does this matter? Oh, I don’t know, but we do have a lot to say about distorted perceptions in others. We represent ourselves as a science-based, even “reality-based” enterprise.

  4. gretemike says:

    I’ve definitely noticed a political twist to some CAM methods. Some of it is predictable, for example hippy-type liberals tend to like crystals and that sort of thing, while conservative Christians avoid reiki because it is too much like praying.

    Prince Charles might not have had politics in mind with his CAM beliefs, but he certainly did use his political position/power to push a CAM agenda, and in doing so gave it a very undeserved appearance of legitimacy.

  5. PJLandis says:

    gretemikekind…”hippy-type liberals tend to like crystals and that sort of thing, while conservative Christians avoid reiki because it is too much like praying.”

    That kind of follows from the personal testimony stuff pmoron is pitching, because these people have a similar unmet needs but flock to stories of people they can relate to, so hippies use crystals and tell other hippies of it’s healing power while conservative Christian’s pray for miracles and relate those miracles to their friends/family who in turn rely on the power of intercessoary prayer. And full disclaimer, I realize those are broad, broad stereotypes….but I think they illustrate the point.

  6. mousethatroared says:

    “In short the foundation was an excellent example of why political ideology should not interfere with the normal process of science.”

    I guess I don’t understand or agree with this statement. Some might say that the ban on human cloning is based on a political ideology that interferes with the normal process of science. Is that ban a bad thing?

  7. Mojo says:

    You know how horror films often have a plot twist in which the monster turns out not to be as dead as people thought?

    Well…

  8. daedalus2u says:

    MTR, animal clones show significant differences from the donor animal. Typically clones are larger and grow faster. Presumably this is due to clones having different epigenetic programming because of the route that the DNA took to get to the embryo state. A number of disorders are known to be due to aberrant readout of epigenetically programmed DNA. Rett Syndrome for example.

    It is very likely that producing human clones using animal tested techniques would produce human clones with the same types of differences. Animals that have been cloned don’t have the same degree of complexity in brain neuroanatomy as humans. How would different epigenetic programming of DNA affect human brain development? No one knows.

    It is extremely likely that human clones produced with current techniques would have congenital birth defects in neuroanatomy and brain function.

    IMO, it is not politics that is inhibiting human cloning right now, it is ethics and prudence as informed by science. CAM never exhibits ethics and prudence and is never informed by science (otherwise it would be SBM and not CAM). Politics can be, but often isn’t.

  9. mousethatroared says:

    DU2 “IMO, it is not politics that is inhibiting human cloning right now, it is ethics and prudence as informed by science. CAM never exhibits ethics and prudence and is never informed by science (otherwise it would be SBM and not CAM). Politics can be, but often isn’t.”

    We do not only have a common ethical guidleline against human cloning. Because we fear that people or institutions would defy those ethical guideline for personal gain. We have a law.

    The same is true for laws on using human subjects in research and many other laws that disrupt the “normal” process of science. “Normal” being, I would have to assume, the processes used in science before the laws were established.

    The only way that a country can convert ethics and prudence into law is through politics. In fact, the only way that a nation can decide which scientific projects are funding priorities is through politics (Political ideology is part of prioritizing health research over or under research that may help the environment, job growth, etc)

    IMO”political ideology should not interfere with the normal process of science.”

    Is a rule that sounds good in the context of fighting CAM, but it just doesn’t work well within a broader scope.

  10. The irony here is that the people who are complaining about evidence based medicine are using anecdotes, personal experience to dispute evidence.

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