By Ash Pryce
Some people don’t see the point in complaining. Not the Victor Meldrew style of complaining mind, but the actual legitimate complaint about a person or companies behaviour to the relevant authorities such as the ASA.
But it is important to take a few minutes to make these complaints if there is a legitimate complaint to be made. The ASA won’t ignore a complaint and all are looked into. A few weeks ago a website was brought to my attention via the Edinburgh Skeptics Facebook Page. This website contained claims that Reiki, an ancient (read debunked) medical treatment that uses our “energy” via a laying-on-of-hands-by-not-laying-on-of-hands-technique can help to treat such diseases as cancer.
Now if this had been outside of theUKthere would be little we could do. As has been seen from the recent Burzynski mess the lack of a Cancer Act in the U.S means that he can pretty much claim what he likes regardless of evidence of efficacy. But in the UK it is different. You can’t make claims to treat cancer unless there is actual evidence – such as with chemotherapy.
So when Anne Clark of Falkirk implied on her website she could treat cancer- “Reiki works on all chronic and acute illnesses, including serious problems like heart disease and cancer”- I and several other users on Facebook decided to send in a complaint to the ASA.
There were and still are many claims on her website relating to what Reiki can do, but outside of a placebo effect there is no evidence Reiki can do anything.
It certainly can’t do the following, as claimed on Anne Clark’s website:
- Tissue regeneration to replace scars or burns
- Strengthened immune system
- Working on skin problems and flu
- Improved memory
To name but a few. Sure, Reiki can help alleviate pain, but it’s not actually the Reiki doing that. Reiki has no actual effect on the body- it’s the placebo effect that is causing the pain to decrease, not the Reiki. You may even want to argue that the relaxation brought about by Reiki does help to improve memory- though what is meant by “Improve memory” is not made clear. Does it mean we can remember things clearer? Does it mean we can remember more? And besides, even if there was some “memory improvement” it would be down to the placebo effect if anything. Reiki is a nice relaxing technique, but at best it is a… well… nice relaxing technique. It certainly isn’t a medical treatment with any real efficacy, and it certainly cannot treat or “work on” cancer.
This morning, a reply from the ASA came and not only does the content of the website in question violate the ASA’s code, but it violates so many codes they have passed the complaint onto another department- known as the Compliance team. Just so you know who the Compliance team are, here’s a description:
“The CAP Compliance Team is the enforcement arm of the ASA and CAP. The Compliance Team works to ensure that advertisers remove their problematic claims. The Compliance Team does not report back to complainants, nor does it publish the results of its work. However, part of its work does involve contacting media owners and telling them not to take any advertisements from problematic advertisers until the CAP Copy Advice team has pre-vetted the advertisements.”
All we can hope now is that Ms Clark abides by the findings of the ASA and its Compliance Team and removes the offending claims from her website. I had thought they were gone when I checked this morning, sadly that was just my eager excitement and the claims persist.
Reiki cannot treat or “work on” cancer, at best it can help alleviate some pain through the application of the placebo effect. But the important thing here is that places like the ASA do listen to complaints we make to them and when relevant act upon them. I would encourage anyone who feels a violation of the ASA and their codes has occurred to contact them. A complaint only takes a few minutes and can be vital- especially when it comes to people’s health and to diseases such as cancer. The Cancer Act exists for a reason.
Reiki is not an efficacious medical treatment. That the NHS offer this treatment does not show it has efficacy as they also offer Homeopathy and reflexology. It is a placebo at best. And complaints to the ASA and other relevant bodies are worthwhile and important. That is the true purpose of this article. To encourage those who may be questioning the worthwhile nature of contacting groups like the ASA to move ahead.
I hold Ms Clark no ill will and think that when offered as a relaxation technique there is no problem with Reiki – it is after all quite relaxing. But it isn’t medically sound as a treatment for serious complaints.