Friday, February 15, 2013

The "neutral" monarchy strikes again

Does it matter that the UK's heir to the throne is a quack who believes that mislabelling water as medicine is medically efficacious? It shouldn't. After all, the monarchy is supposed to be politically neutral, and their views simply should not be a factor in government decision-making. Unfortunately, it turns out that that's not the case: one of Charles Windsor's charities has had information critical about homeopathy removed from a UK government website:

Draft guidance for the website NHS Choices warning that there is no evidence that homeopathy works was suppressed by officials following lobbying by a charity set up by the Prince of Wales.

Homeopathy, which involves the use of remedies so heavily diluted with water that they no longer contain any active substance, is "rubbish", said chief medical officer Sally Davies in January to the House of Commons science and technology committee. She added that she was "perpetually surprised" that homeopathy was available in some places on the NHS.

But the government's NHS Choices website, which is intended to offer evidence-based information and advice to the public on treatments, does not reflect her view. A draft page that spelled out the scientific implausibility of homeopathic remedies was neutered by Department of Health officials. It is now uncritical, with just links to reports on the lack of evidence.

Lobbying by opponents, and the response from DH officials who did not want to take on Prince Charles's now defunct Foundation for Integrated Medicine and other supporters of homeopathy, is revealed in correspondence from the department discussing the new guidance.

There's no evidence that Charles was personally behind this, but his name certainly lent his charity's views weight, making the Department of Health more cautious about standing up to them. Which is exactly what the ban on the monarch's involvement is supposed to avoid. But by laundering his views through a front, Charles appears to have effectively circumvented it, and imposed his opinion on a government department. And that is unconstitutional, undemocratic, and wrong.