Great moments in Canadian humanitarianism

The homeopathy Denis Marier has brought to Haiti is what we had before real medicine

I guess I’m slow on the uptake. I expected that the Globe & Mail would receive a flood of objections to, and ridicule for, Jessica Leeder’s cheerfully uncritical Feb. 27 blogpost about the activities of a Canadian “naturopathic doctor” who was rushed to Haiti by a charity to “help” with relief efforts. Instead, the paper has promoted Leeder’s story to the front page of its website. Denis Marier, whose own website proclaims him to be a “humanitarian”, brought 100 pounds of homeopathic medicines with him to Haiti; by his own account, this has enabled him to begin “administering homeopathic remedies to several children with scabies (Psorinum)”.

What’s psorinum, you ask? Good question! On the homeopathic “principle” that “like cures like”, practitioners sometimes apply what they call “nosodes”: these are diluted secretions from sick people, which may include excrement, blood, or diseased tissue. Psorinum is described in one favourable literature abstract as “an alcoholic extract of scabies, scrub, slough, and pus cells”. “Dr.” Marier has also been enthusiastically prescribing “pyrogenium”, an English homeopathic remedy that consists of diluted extract of rotten beef.

It’s all related to the “miasmatic theory” of disease, whose abandonment in the 19th century you may have heard some wild rumours of. I say “abandonment”; the truth, of course, is that miasmatic theory had to be positively bulldozed out of the path of Koch, Pasteur, John Snow, Ignaz Semmelweis, and other early investigators that we now, with all our hegemonic Western prejudices, regard as the first proper scientists in medicine. But Marier, evidently not one to take a hint, is passionately investigating the “application” of miasmatic theory to “relief medical work”. The charity that’s footing the bill for this experimentation—performed on human subjects who could not possibly be under greater duress, and for whom informed consent is inconceivable—is Hearts Together For Haiti, a troubled Catholic institution for which anointing sick children with pus may actually represent something of an upgrade, ethically.

Leeder, who is an award-winning investigative reporter, writes that “Integrating medical relief work with homeopathy is an approach that’s only in its infancy.” But homeopathy, in the form that Denis Marier practices, is what we had before real medicine: i.e., folk notions and metaphysical nonsense. Advocates of various styles of quackery always emphasize the great antiquity of their ideas, usually just as they’re about to complain that those same ideas have never been given a fair hearing by the Establishment. And characterizing something as “being in its infancy” implies that it is on course to grow into adulthood if uninterrupted by calamity. It’s precisely the kind of word choice a neutral reporter ought to avoid—I would say most especially when in the process of documenting the wasteful, possibly harmful activities of a delusional, selfish idiot.