Is it ethical for medical practitioners to prescribe alternative and complementary treatments that may lack an evidence base?

Paul Gerber
Med J Aust 2011; 195 (8): . || doi: 10.5694/mja11.10923
Published online: 17 October 2011

To the Editor: The commissioned article by Pirotta, dealing with the ethics of prescribing alternative complementary treatments that may lack an evidence base,1 contains a number of statements which, if the article had been subjected to peer review, might well have finished up on the cutting-room floor. For example, the statement “it is estimated that as little as a quarter of conventional medicine is based on level-1 evidence” is not backed up by the only monograph cited in support of it.2 Whatever relevance a lack of level-1 evidence may have to the practice of dermatology (for which it is claimed), it plays little part in either modern medicine or the revolutionary advances in surgery, few being the result of a systematic review of multiple well controlled randomised trials. Having said that, the reference to complementary or alternative treatments that lack any evidence base as “medicine” gives a misleading legitimacy to practices that may be — and frequently are — based on cultural, historical or spiritual beliefs, or even just plain wacky approaches to healing. Regrettably, Pirotta adds nothing new to the (uncited) definitive 2004 article by Kerridge and McPhee.3

  • Paul Gerber

  • Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD.


Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.


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