A New York midwife who gave nearly 1,500 children useless homeopathy pills instead of required vaccines has been fined $300,000 according to the New York State Department of Health. Jeanette Breen, who operates Baldwin Midwifery on Long Island, administered the homeopathic pellets as an alternative to vaccinations and then falsified the children’s vaccination records.
Thus, these children were given worthless homeopathy pills, which have no clinical effect, instead of required vaccines that protect children from measles, chickenpox, mumps, and many other dangerous diseases.
This article will review what Ms. Breen did, discuss the worthlessness of homeopathic quackery, and how this caused harm to children.
What is homeopathy?
A lot of people, mostly Americans, conflate homeopathy with natural medicine, like herbal medicine. It isn’t. Homeopathy, known as the “law of similars”, relies on the belief that “let like be cured by like”, and is a term coined by Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician who was appalled by the state of medicine at the time, the late 1700’s.
And frankly, the state of medicine at that time was pretty bad, so any new idea might have been worth trying. Unfortunately, when Hahnemann was alive, basic scientific knowledge was missing – cell theory and germ theory were a few decades from even a basic understanding of those scientific principles.
Homeopathic potions are prepared by serially diluting the original substance (could be anything from diseased tissue to arsenic to snake venom plus mercury) with shaking and forceful striking on an elastic body, which homeopaths term “succussion.”
Each dilution followed by succussion is assumed to increase the effectiveness. Homeopaths call this process “potentization.” From a chemistry perspective, this is merely diluting and shaking, there is nothing scientific happening.
Furthermore, this dilution process is such that there is only a tiny possibility of even a single molecule of the original substance remaining in the solution. After, several steps of homeopathic potentization, there are ONLY water molecules in the solution. Nothing else.
But let’s look at homeopathy more technically.
Hahnemann precisely described the dilution methodology. The first dilution is one part homeopathic substance into 99 parts of water. Then, one part of that first dilution is then diluted into another 99 parts of water. Each of these dilutions is called 1C, so two dilutions would be called 2C, with one part of the original similar diluted in approximately 10,000 parts water. With a 3C dilution, it would be one part in a million parts water.
Homeopathy uses 30C dilution. It would be 1 part in 1060 parts water. In other words, the so-called “active” ingredient does not exist in the 30C dilution. You would need to drink 1034 (or 10 followed by 34 zeroes) liters of water (about 10 billion times the amount of water on earth) just to get one molecule – one single molecule of the so-called active ingredient.
Since water poisoning is a thing, you probably should not consider doing this.
Now diluting substances to create a physiological response is a well-known, evidence-based method in medicine. For example, allergy hyposensitization uses extremely diluted antigens (say cat dander), while slowly increasing the concentration to build a tolerance to the immune response. But the dilution is substantially higher than homeopathy, maybe 1-2C at most.
Moreover, this methodology is based on the science of immunology, not magical processes. We know why this works to reduce allergies.
Homeopathic pills undergo the same kind of dilution, except with sugar. Homeopathic pills are 100% sugar with absolutely no active ingredient.
Homeopathy is a pseudoscience without any basis in physics, chemistry, or biology. It has no clinical effect. And there is no evidence that water or sugar homeopathy potions can replace vaccines.
Now that I’ve spent your reading time explaining the utter implausibility of homeopathy, researchers have wasted money and effort to debunk homeopathy scientifically and clinically. There have been numerous large systematic reviews that have examined whether homeopathy has any clinical effectiveness. Here are some of them:
- Homeopathy: what does the “best” evidence tell us? The researchers concluded: “The findings of currently available Cochrane reviews of studies of homeopathy do not show that homeopathic medicines have effects beyond placebo.”
- A systematic review provided clinical evidence that homeopathy doesn’t work: “The results of our meta-analysis are not compatible with the hypothesis that the clinical effects of homeopathy are completely due to placebo. However, we found insufficient evidence from these studies that homeopathy is clearly efficacious for any single clinical condition.”
- A meta-analysis of homeopathy for psychiatric disorders showed no evidence that it has any usefulness.
Homeopathy pills instead of vaccines
Jeanette Breen, a state-licensed healthcare provider, supplied patients with the “Real Immunity Homeoprophylaxis Program,” a series of oral homeopathy pellets that are marketed as an alternative to vaccination but are not recognized or approved by state or federal regulators as valid vaccines. These pills are nothing more than sugar, so any expectation that they can replace vaccines is false.
Breen administered 12,449 of the fake immunizations to roughly 1,500 school-age patients before submitting information to the state’s immunization database claiming the children had received their required vaccinations against measles, mumps, rubella, polio, chickenpox, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), hepatitis B, and many other vaccine-preventable diseases.
As part of the settlement, Breen has paid $150,000 of the $300,000 penalty, with the remainder suspended contingent upon her complying with state health laws and never again administering any immunization that must be reported to the state, according to the health department. She’s also permanently banned from accessing the state’s immunization records system.
Ironically, I’ve written about this before — former Green Bay Packers quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, claimed that his homeopathy pills were a replacement for COVID-19 vaccines. Of course, Rodgers contracted COVID-19. What a shock.
Let’s get back to Breen and her fake vaccines. It’s bad enough that some parents thought that their children were vaccinated against these deadly diseases, but some parents knew their children were getting fake vaccines. According to the New York Times:
The authorities said that it appeared that many of the parents knew their children were not being vaccinated. “The scheme suggests that the persons in parental relation to the affected children sought out and paid Breen related to their children’s immunizations,” a spokeswoman for the Health Department, Erin Clary, wrote in an email.
So this fraud went two ways. First, she gave worthless homeopathy pills to some children whose parents did want them vaccinated and they thought the pills actually did work like vaccines. Second, parents sought Breen out to avoid vaccinating their children.
Either way, Breen endangered children’s lives, and she should have received much more severe penalties, including a permanent revocation of her license or even criminal prosecution. Well, at least she was fined by the State of New York.
Orac perfectly sums up what I think of this debacle:
How is it that Breen wasn’t hauled before her state board and stripped of her license. Personally, I would ritually burn it in front of her and scatter the ashes at her feet. This woman should not be in any position to provide healthcare for patients. She is an irredeemable antivax quack. If you want to know why state health authorities failed so miserably in reining in medical misinformation and COVID-19 related quackery during the pandemic, this is just another example of the preexisting systemic rot that explains why.
- Ernst E. Homeopathy: what does the “best” evidence tell us? Med J Aust. 2010 Apr 19;192(8):458-60. doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2010.tb03585.x. PMID: 20402610.
- Linde K, Clausius N, Ramirez G, Melchart D, Eitel F, Hedges LV, Jonas WB. Are the clinical effects of homeopathy placebo effects? A meta-analysis of placebo-controlled trials. Lancet. 1997 Sep 20;350(9081):834-43. doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(97)02293-9. Erratum in: Lancet 1998 Jan 17;351(9097):220. PMID: 9310601.
- Rotella F, Cassioli E, Falone A, Ricca V, Mannucci E. Homeopathic Remedies in Psychiatric Disorders: A Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2020 May/Jun;40(3):269-275. doi: 10.1097/JCP.0000000000001196. PMID: 32332462.
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