Running scared from perceived Potter partnership? – By Stacey Broom

I read an article yesterday that I found a little interesting. Apparently, a natural therapy clinic had been established at Whanganui Hospital but has since been put on hold due it its links with witchcraft. Okay, I admit to being a little naive about what a link with witchcraft means in 2012. To me, a link with witchcraft means that you went to last year’s Halloween party as Hermione Granger.  But clearly, for some, this is still a damaging accusation, the type from which one needs to distance themselves.  Given my naivety about how “Christian prayer and energy healing – including reiki and colour therapy” relates to witchcraft I can’t comment about that claim. However, I am wondering, what is the real issue?

Let me state, for the record, I’m not against natural therapies or people choosing to use them (depending on the situation, I’m critical of situations like the use of alternative therapies on children, read about the sad story of Liam Williams-Holloway here).  But, if I’d had to guess what the issue was about having a natural therapy clinic running alongside a hospital it would not have been its links to witchcraft, that’s for sure. I’m wondering why people weren’t questioning whether it was good to have a clinic of this nature in a hospital.

Perhaps they had already answered that question before it was established – it was established so we can only assume they thought it was a good idea to set up. So, if they thought it was a good idea (if they had no problem with offering natural therapies along with the medical assistance one normally receives in a hospital setting) then why did they not fight to keep it?  It seems to me that if it is deemed worthy to create, then a frivolous claim made by some board members (possibly in jest, for all we know) should not be enough to send the creators of the clinic running scared.

The chief executive was quoted as saying that the comments made by the board members were confusing to the public. I don’t know about anyone else who would have read the piece but I’m far more confused as to the (over)reaction. The piece does say that they’re now going to pilot the clinic on staff so I suppose if the well-being of the staff improves they might give it a go on patients. This too seems a little strange, since the needs of the staff and the needs of the patients are so vastly different.  Surely a therapy designed for one wouldn’t necessarily translate to the other – but what do I know.

I make no claims about whether or not this type of clinic is a good thing but I did find the story interesting (if for no better reason than getting to relate a bioethical issue to Harry Potter).

-Stacey Broom

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4 thoughts on “Running scared from perceived Potter partnership? – By Stacey Broom

  1. That is a very interesting story, Stacey, and I like your take on it. I’m not surprised that they claim the public were confused, and I doubt this story and the DHB’s response will ease the confusion much, since it’s rather hard to discern what’s going on. I agree that the main issue is natural therapy centre setting up shop at a hospital. It’s not clear what the nature of this arrangement is/was, but at the very least there are concerns that have been raised about the association of complementary and alternative medicine into medicine (see here for more on this). If the DHB is funding the therapies, this raises other concerns.

    (I hope those html tags worked!)

    I suspect that the arrangement with the natural therapy clinic was going out on a limb, and that the mention of the occult made that limb seem rather more flimsy than was hoped. I think you’re right that the mentioning of the occult shouldn’t in itself have changed matters considerably given that they had accept other forms of mystical healing in allowing the clinic to be established. However, often these things are about perceptions, whether rational or not, and there is a vein of mainstream acceptability to natural therapies that can easily be lost when witches and wizards become part of the mix.

    Interesting that they’ve carried on with a trial on staff. One wonders how robust this trial is, what they want to learn from it, and whether it has or requires ethics approval. None of these questions are answered in the story.

    • Hi Mike,

      Thanks for the comment. The article was a tad light on details so it’s hard to see exactly what the situation is with this clinic. And without having read what the inflammatory comments made by the board-members actually were I’m still puzzled by this reaction. I suppose, even given my affection for the Harry Potter world, if a clinic of this sort really did have ties to the occult I would probably be somewhat more concerned (not that I have anything against people who believe in such things). I’m only thinking that the public may not have an adequate understanding of the different therapies and may be confused about the intentions. But then, maybe the point is that some people think that we either can, or should be able to, draw a line between orthodox medicine and anything outside of it. Those people quite possibly lump the “anything outside of it” into one basket. So a clinic using energy healing and colour therapy might, in the minds of some, equate to practices of the occult. If this is the case I can understand the concern. But it’s difficult to go about drawing lines between practices of the occult, traditional medicine, alternative therapies and orthodox medicine, since they can overlap. I suppose the important thing would be informed consent. If a clinic like the one proposed in the article is to go ahead it should adhere to the same standards as any other health provider. With informed consent being key, a patient can exercise their autonomy to decide to use the services provided, or not. -Stacey Broom

      • Yeah, informed consent is crucial. However, even if this were provided for in a standard way (and there’s no obvious reason to think it wouldn’t be) I think there are still problems with a CAM centre occupying the same space as a public hospital. There is perceived legitimacy that the CAM centre can gain by its location within such a space, for a start. This can undermine autonomy by encouraging false beliefs about the CAM treatments provided being part of those provided by the hospital, and therefore having the same standards of research and testing underlying their development. Then there is the issue of whether any DHB money is being used to support the centre or whether it’s a fully independent business.The use of state resources to subsidise of fund treatments without good evidence of their efficacy or (at least) a plausible account of their mechanism of action would be wrong. I’m sure this happens with conventional medicine at times, and where it does, I’d say that’s wrong too.

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