Last week an article was published (opens new window) on Stuff talking about how a young New Zealand woman who has had cancer (acute lymphoblastic leukemia) since she was 14 is going to spend $20,000 on an alternative treatment for her cancer - Ozone Therapy. The clinic says about this therapy:
"We saturate the body with oxygen, using ozone and we reinvigorate the whole system. I think it makes sense when you realize that every step of every chemical reaction in the body requires oxygen. So when the oxygen levels are sub optimal or low, the chemical reactions in the body don't go to full completion"
The article was uncritical of the treatment, and talked of the "doctors" at the Global Health Clinic in Auckland. There was also a link to a givealittle (opens new window) fundraising effort for the therapy.
Mark Hanna, a colleague at the Society for Science Based Healthcare, sent a complaint to the paper - the Timaru Herald - about the bias in the article. Mark said in his complaint that the article is "misleading and lacks the important context that there is no credible scientific evidence that the treatments being discussed can treat leukemia", and that according to the Press Council's rule of "Accuracy, Fairness and Balance", because the article isn't part of a larger conversation in the public sphere about the efficacy of Ozone therapy, the article needed to provide balance. He also complained about how staff at the centre were called doctors. He finished by saying:
"It is a tragic thing to see a young person driven to such extremes to treat such a horrible disease as cancer, and I understand why it has been seen as newsworthy. However that does not mean it is acceptable to report on this case in a relentlessly positive way, with a disregard to appropriate balance and likely harm done to your readers' health literacy."
The Timaru Herald replied quickly, saying that they would amend the article to say that the staff are not doctors, and that they would seek an opposing view. The online article now has quotes from Dr Chris Jackson, medical director for the Cancer Society:
"The Cancer Society often gets asked about alternative treatments such as ozone therapy, vitamin C or bio-crystals. We recommend that they are not to be used as alternatives to traditional cancer treatment. If anyone would like to consider an alternative or complementary therapy regime option, we suggest you seek advice from your oncologist or registered medical professional as some may affect your treatment."