I’ve been reading “Trick or Treatment” by Simon Singh, the book which sparked a libel action by chiropractors who accused Singh and his fellow author of damaging their reputations. The chiropractice issue is not my concern and personally I have no axe to grind either way; I’m more interested in how this very well researched and convincing book still fails to give the full picture and misses the point about complementary medicine. Singh always stays within his safety zone: looking at the success rates of alternative therapies for physical ailments. He gives hypnotherapy barely a mention, for example. He describes the American Medical Associations quite savage attacks on chiropractors with some approval and his gold standard is “high quality” clinical research. But if he were to also look at the way in which the same association has tried to stamp out midwifery and outlaw home birth, using poor quality research (such as the quite dreadful Wax Report), financial leverage and scaremongering, Singh would see that sometimes doctors do not deserve the unstinting faith he seems to think they should.
I would suggest to Singh that his faith in the medical profession and medical research would be not exactly shaken but certainly acquire a bit of nuanced shading if he looked carefully at how women have given birth in America over the past century. The picture he paints of nice, sensible white-coated doctors versus greedy, fraudulent “alternative” practitioners suddenly crumbles at the doors of the maternity ward.
I would love him to have a good look at the way in which unproven, dangerous techniques were routinely imposed for the convenience of doctors and insurance companies, the way the actual physiological process of birth has systematically been ignored and interfered with, to no good purpose, for several generations. I would love to see Singh’s thoroughness applied to the following birth practices, their origin, persistence and in most cases demise after pressure not from doctors but from women and midwives:
Historically he could take a look at how the following practices developed:
- routine episiotomies
- the infamous “twilight” labour under heavy sedation
- strapping women down to beds in labour
- enforced separation of mothers and babies despite all evidence that this inhibits breastfeeding
- refusing mothers food and drink in labour
- routine shaving, enemas
- valsava pushing
And here are a few that are still very “normal” in the UK:
- routine induction when baby and mother are in good health
- routine offering of epidurals to women coping well
- Offering of caesareans without explaining the risks