Monday, November 19, 2012

Ethics for Magical People: Healing with Herbs (2 of 2)

Another logical trap that an ethical herbalist avoids is “If it is natural, it is good.”  This is the “appeal to nature”, which follows: “if something is natural, then it is safe and effective.”  The corollary of this logical fallacy is “anything artificial is bad and hence unsafe.”  However, the concept of what is “natural” can be vague since poison ivy is natural but unsafe. A diligent herbalist would know that some herbs are safe because they have no side effects while others need to be used with care. The fact that the herbs are natural would not automatically make them safe for everyone.  For example, garlic will lower cholesterol but has anticoagulant properties, according to Dr. Barrett.  Therefore in my case, garlic would be problematic since there is a potential risk of my blood not being able to clot as needed.

In the case history of Mags, the herbalist and Jason, her friend, several ethical breaches occurred.  First, Mags assured Jason that since she was giving him herbs, they were safe.  She also declared that he should not take a pill, since it was artificial and therefore unsafe.  This, of course, was an error in Mags’ judgment, and displayed her ignorance of how medicines work.  Fortunately, for her, her patient did not die. 

Taking any medication, whether herbal or manufactured, has a risk for any patient, which the healer would need to know about. If Mags had taken a medical history of Jason, she would have found out that he was allegoric to chamomile.  Just asking Jason about any allergies would have alerted her to any problems he may have with any of the herbs in her potion.

The second ethical breach was the “appeal to custom,” which though Mags did not state out-loud, she implied it, with her statement “works one hundred percent every time.”  In the “Science-based Medicine Blog”, Dr. Steven Novella (neurologist) pointed out that the herb aristolochia has been used since the time of the Ancient Greeks for join pain, amongst other things.  However in the 1990s, it was proven to cause kidney failure.  This adverse effect became first known when several people in Belgium developed kidney problems after taking aristolochia.  Because of previous faulty records, no one had made the connection between this herb and potential harm to the kidneys.  Therefore Mags needs to understand that some herbs do have adverse side effects, despite having been used for years.

As a part of informed consent to the patient, Mags needed to tell Jason what was in the potion.  By learning what was in the mixture, Jason could decide whether to drink it or not.  Since Jason is allergic to plants in the sunflower family, if he knew that chamomile was in Mags’ potion, he could refuse to take it.  Through Mags’ careless assumption that natural is “safe”, she endangered Jason.

Jason, for his part, needed to inform Mags of his allergy.  He has to guard his own health, and that includes informing his doctors of his health issues.  He cannot blame Mags for her lack of knowledge of his sunflower allergy.  He committed a breach of ethics on his part by not telling her, and thereby bringing harm to himself.

Most importantly, the most serious harm being practiced by both Jason and Mags is treating his “cold”.  Instead of going to a doctor, Jason has been medicating himself for weeks.  Mags “aided and abetted” him by providing him with herbal remedies, without thinking about the consequences.  In Jason’s case, her herbs may have masked a serious illness or compounded his problems further. 

If Jason could not get better on his own, then Mags should have suggested that he see a doctor.  If he was reluctant to see one, Mags could have helped to convince him to go.  Part of her duty as a healer is to see that her clients get the care they need.  Mags was practicing medicine beyond the scope of her abilities.  Jason, for his part, needed to recognize that, as well, since he was doing the same thing himself.  They both failed in their respective duties in regards to curing Jason’s illness.

Works Used:
Atwood, Kimbal, “Science, Reason, Ethics and Modern Medicine” series, Science-Based Medicine Blog,, .

Barrett, Stephen, “The Herbal Minefield,” Quackwatch, 19 August 2012,, .

Curtis, Gary, “Logical Fallacies: The Fallacy Files,”, .

La Puma, John, “Ethics of Alternative Medicine: The Unconventional Has Its Place,” “Managed Care”, November 1998,, .

Morningstar, Sally, “The Art of Wiccan Healing”, Hay House: Carlsbad (CA), 2005.

Novella, Steven, “Herbal Medicine and Aristolochic Acid Nephropathy,” Science-Based Medicine Blog, 11 April 2012,, .

Singh, Amrit Pal, “Ethics in Herbal Medicine,” Southern Illinois University, Ethnobotanical Leaflets 11: 206-211. 2007,, .

Specter, Michael, “Bad Medicine: Why Echinacea Won’t Fix Your Cold,” “The Independent”, 9 October 2010,, .

No comments: