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Psst Channel 9, don’t mention the C-word on TV. Cure, that is…

The Channel 9 Mornings program this morning ran a story about a Christian couple who claim to be able to cure cancer by the power of prayer. Not surprisingly, for those who missed it, there is no acknowledgement of the segment on the show’s website, as such claims made by people who are not registered health practitioners are a breach of the NSW Code of Conduct for unregistered Health Practitioners.

To say that airing such a segment is irresponsible would be putting it too mildly. There is enough misinformation and fearmongering about cancer treatment as it is without having a highly popular and well-regarded show give a free kick to such claims. Such simple-minded tomfoolery also stigmatises cancer patients since the obvious implication is that they have cancer because they are not morally worthy, or in some way deserve to have it.

People are perfectly free to follow their religious urges wherever they lead them, but they do not have the right to make unsupported and implausible claims about serious illnesses being curable by prayer or other supernatural means. That’s not just my opinion. It’s the law. Both under the NSW Code mentioned above, and the TGA Advertising Code, you are expressly and specifically forbidden from claiming to cure cancer, HIV or other serious illnesses.

By failing to provide any disclaimer or critical response as part of the story, it is possible (I am no lawyer!) that Channel 9 has itself breached the TGA Code by providing what is essentially an advertorial for these so-called healers. There is a precedent for such a finding by TGA.

Around lunchtime, the following information appeared on the official Twitter feed of the show

Today we had a young couple on claiming faith healing can cure cancer. Tomorrow medical science hits back, GP Dr Penny Adams with her view.

This looks to me like damage control. Medical science should not have to “hit back” as if there is a genuine debate to be had. There is no contest. Faith healing is not a proven treatment for serious illness, as its adherents have never produced any useful or convincing evidence to suggest that it is. Chemotherapy works the same regardless of the religious beliefs of the recipient, because it is based on sound science.

In this day and age it is utterly remarkable that there are TV producers who are willing to risk breaching serious laws that have significant consequences to allow sincerely misguided so-called “healers” free advertisements in the guise of genuine information. Remarkable….and depressing.

I await with interest the regulatory action that one feels is inevitable given the blatant flouting of specific prohibitions against claiming to cure cancer. Lack of such action by Channel 9, the Healthcare Complaints Commission, TGA or the Australian Communications and Media Authority would be even more remarkable and depressing.

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