Randi has been hot on the trail of the NIH, most recently in this Swift article. Last week, we received this letter at the JREF.

Dear Mr. Randi, Dr. Plait and Dr. Gorski,

After the recent article at both the JREF and Respectful Insolence regarding cancer and acupuncture, I decided to take a look and see if my employer, Massachusetts General Hospital, had any information on the subject. Sad to say, our cancer center offers acupuncture and ear acupuncture through the HOPES program. And on the page for gynecologic cancers, I found this (bolding added):

Our medical therapies include:

  • Intraperitoneal chemotherapy, a technique for infusing medicine directly into the abdominal cavity, improving survival and reducing side effects for women with advanced ovarian cancer
  • Cancer immunotherapy, which entails vaccinating women with their own modified tumor cells or immune stimulants to bolster the body's response to cancer therapies
  • Innovative therapies for drug resistant tumors that help boost their sensitivity to chemotherapy
  • Acupuncture to help manage side effects

Now, I am quite certain that many patients would gladly fork over money for such things (though I note that acupuncture is offered free through the HOPES program, supported by charitable donations), but that a renowned hospital like Mass General adds yet another bit of woo to its offerings...

The more I learn about this place, the less respect I have. I know that they do some amazing things, provide amazing care to patients and conduct a lot of research, but to have those things tarnished by delving into the mire of CAM (or "Wellness") therapies leaves me feeling a bit dirty by association.

Boston, MA

My mother worked for decades at Mass General, and though she believes it to be one of the finest hospitals in the country, she did have a run-in with the staff when they asked her to learn therapeutic touch. She refused, as it served no place in medicine.  And she was right.

So why do hospitals offer these treatments? Could it be that they're billable, and don't have any side effects (or effects at all), rendering the hospital safe from malpractice suits?

The placebo effect is no excuse for validating treatments long proven to be malarchy. A patient "helped" by accupuncture for pain during recovery from a sprained ankle, may then look to other "ancient wisdoms" to cure his heart ailment. It happens.

Simply put, it's the job of our medical institutions to provide the best, most up-to-date, and most evidence-based medicine possible. In these examples, they are failing to do that.