The use of false information to benefit oneself has been present throughout human history. Simple natural events such as solar or lunar eclipses were used to prove the connection of a divine ruler and/or higher powers and to convince the masses to obey such rulers for years to come. Throughout history, potions and magical substances have been sold and advertised to have magical or divine powers capable of doing the impossible. It is surprising to know that this dilemma is still going on today after an era of enlightenment and immense scientific discoveries. Although the overall concept of the use of false information has not changed, in recent years, a new type of falsification has been used. In an era when science is widely accepted and the belief in powers of magic and divine substances are diminishing, some have found a new solution. Their solution is to use falsified science to prove their false claims using the truth seeking and authoritative reputation of real science.
The ethical dilemma of a professional however has remained quite unchanged. The ethical duty of an astronomer to inform the public that the eclipse has no connection to the power of the ruler and the scientist who knows the falsified information on a drug are analogous.
Today, United States citizens can walk into any major store and find numerous products that are supported by false science. Some examples are, ionic bracelets to reduce stress, magnetic weight loss earrings, and magnetic foams to cure sleeping disorders.
In this chapter we discuss one of the largest and most recent cases of falsification of science, cellular medicine and its founder Matthias Rath. We discuss not only his product and his aim to maximize profits with false science, but also the many innocent lives that were lost as a result.
Matthias Rath and Cellular MedicineEdit
An example of someone who has sold products based on unfounded claims is Matthias Rath. He is a German doctor, who introduced a new scientific concept called cellular medicine. He attributes a wide range of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes to a lack of vitamins and micronutrients. The four principles of cellular medicine are: 1) Health and disease are determined at the cellular level. 2) Micronutrients are essential for biochemical reactions in cell. Lack of them is primary cause of many chronic conditions. 3) Cardiovascular disease is most prevalent because the cells that make up the heart and related blood vessels consume micronutrients at higher rate. 4) Optimum dietary supplementation of micronutrients is the key to prevention of cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases.
Based on his belief in cellular medicine, Dr. Rath began marketing his own brand of vitamin supplements and founded the Dr. Rath Health Foundation and Dr. Rath Research Institute. The foundation’s primary goal is to establish a New Global Healthcare System that would be focused on using cellular medicine to treat and prevent diseases. All proceeds of the foundation go towards supporting his research institution and to educating the public about cellular medicine and the downfalls of the pharmaceutical industry. However, it is reported that his foundation has made millions in profit through vitamin sales. Dr. Rath firmly believes that major pharmaceutical companies are doing all they can to prevent people from hearing what he calls the real truth about disease treatment and prevention. He believes there is conflict between the pharmaceutical industry's apparent motive of doing ‘business with disease’ and freeing people to be healthy. As a way to spread his views on the industry and politics, Dr. Rath began an open letter campaign in 2003. In this campaign, he purchases full page ads in major newspapers such as the New York Times and writes out his opinions in the form of an editorial. "Victory over Cancer," and "Stop Bush! Stop WWIII" are examples of some of the provocative headlines that he has used to draw attention to his ads. In a letter posted on April 11, 2003 in the South China Morning Post, Dr. Rath claims that vitamins offer protection against the SARS virus. While letters such as these would likely be ignored by an educated individual, misinformed people might consider what he says to be the truth.
Due to his controversial stances on the pharmaceutical industry and his advertising of unsupported claims, Dr. Rath has been involved in many legal cases against pharmaceutical companies, government agencies and newspapers. In 2002, the United States Food and Drug Administration ordered Dr. Rath to take down unproven therapeutic claims of his vitamin supplements off his website. Specifically, his website used to advertise Vitacor Plus and Diacor as treatments for cardiovascular disease and diabetes, respectively. After receiving this notification, Dr. Rath changed the name and labeling of his supplements sold in the US. Some of the new names for his vitamins are "Dr. Rath Cardiovascular Health & Longevity, Dr. Rath Healthy Blood Pressure, Dr. Rath Healthy Blood Sugar," and so on. He essentially sells a different supplement for a healthy function. For example, the website claims that the first vitamin mentioned is "scientifically formulated to optimize healthy heart function*." As indicated by the star, each claim is then linked to a disclaimer on the bottom of the page that says "These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease." Due to the specificity of each supplement for a healthy function, it is possible that the public might think that combinations of these are necessary for complete health benefits.
Dr. Rath began advertising his multivitamins in South Africa in 2004. He claimed that the antiretroviral drugs were toxic and harmful to the patients and that his vitamin supplements could reverse the symptoms of AIDS. He established a company called the Rath Health Foundation Africa, and advertised in many national newspapers. Unfortunately, he took his idea to the exactly right place. South Africa has about five million HIV infections, and over one million have already died from AIDS. Additionally, South Africa’s president at the time, Thabo Mbeki, and his health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, were both well known as AIDS dissidents, and they warmly welcomed Dr. Rath to their country. During his presidency, Mbeki supported small campaigners who claim that AIDS is not caused by HIV. Furthermore, Manto believed that natural alternatives such as raw garlic and African potato can cure AIDS. Dr. Rath’s ideas were also supported by South African National Civics Association, Traditional Healers Organization, and the National Association of People Living with Aids.
In 2005, Dr. Rath began a series of illegal trials in Khayelitsha, a poor black South African town. During these experiments, high dose vitamins, which were packaged with his branding, were distributed among people with AIDS. Rath Foundation recruited patients for the study by offering money or food. Patients were instructed to stop taking antiretroviral medications while consuming the vitamin pills. These studies were not supported by any control groups or ethical committees. Throughout the trials, some patients were photographed while they were asked to strip to their underwear and had blood samples taken without giving consents. According to the health department’s director of nutrition, Lynne Moeng, the labels on the vitamin packages were misleading for not indicating the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA), the dosage a consumer can safely use without adverse effects, as well as the recommended dosage for different ages. Dr. Rath published the results of his studies in New York Times, International Herald Tribune, and the Namibian. In the reported results, he claimed that the sample size of his studies was 18, and that his vitamin pills did reverse the course of AIDS without the need for antiretroviral drugs. However, no peer-reviewed journals have published his studies. Studies by the news agency Health-e and the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) indicated that a number of patients died within weeks of discarding their medications in the favor of these multivitamins. According to a study done by researchers at Harvard University, although the multivitamins slow the progression of AIDS, they are not as effective as the antiretroviral.
Finally, the TAC and the South African Medical Association (SAMA) took Dr. Rath to the court in order to prevent further unauthorized trials and advertising in South Africa. As the result, Rath is no longer allowed to advertise his products unless the advisory committee of the Advertising Standard Authority of South Africa (ASASA) approves his advertisements. Additionally, the US Food and Drug Administration has issued a caution against him for misleading advertising on the internet. However, he has been extensively selling his products through his websites by targeting different countries for different diseases.
This case study shows how false science can not only result in fraud, but also in murder sometimes. But who is really to blame? People like Matthias Rath? Let’s assume for a second that the people using these false sciences genuinely believe what they say. In that case, would they be at fault of trying to help others by telling them what they think is the truth? Would they be committing immoral or unethical acts? However, it can be argued that an expert, who knows with certainty that those claims are false and does not say anything, is committing an unethical act. Furthermore, it might be that expert’s duty to inform the non-experts. If the people knowingly use false science to benefit themselves, there is no doubt that their act is not ethical. However, the position of the third party expert does not change. So, one can argue that in this case both parties are committing unethical acts, one actively and one by not doing enough. This brings us to the conclusion that professionals not only have the duty to do the right thing, but also the duty to stop the wrong.