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OPINIONScienceJune 10, 2016

An open letter to Maureen Pugh, the new National MP who ‘doesn’t believe in pharmaceutical drugs’


Maureen Pugh is National’s newest MP, having replaced the new US ambassador, Tim Groser, from the list. Prompted by news that Pugh “doesn’t believe in pharmaceutical drugs”, Siouxsie Wiles drops her a line

Dear Maureen

Congratulations on becoming the National Party’s newest MP! I’ll have to admit, though, that I’m a little nervous about your election after reading that you don’t believe in using pharmaceutical medicines and would apparently “like to see the government take a more holistic approach to how it allocates health funding”. By holistic, I’m making the assumption that you would like to see more “alternative medicine” being funded, although I understand you try to avoid using that phrase for fear it “conjures up an image of crystal-waving, unshaven women”. Actually, when I hear that phrase, what I imagine are well-educated, well-meaning but ultimately misinformed people who don’t realise that “alternative medicine” is medicine that has been proven not to work.

Take chiropractic as an example, a fascinating form of “alternative medicine” invented by Daniel David Palmer in the USA in the 1890s. Palmer believed that misalignments of the spine (so called “subluxations”) were the basis for all disease by interfering with the body’s “innate intelligence”. Many chiropractors believe that fixing these spinal “subluxations” can cure anything from ear ache and allergies, to bed wetting and ADHD.

John Key and his newest MP, Maureen Pugh. Photo: Facebook

But it turns out it can’t. There is no evidence that such thing as “innate intelligence” even exists. In fact, studies have shown time and time again that chiropractic manipulation is ineffective, with the possible exception of treatment for lower back pain, although the evidence for that is marginal. But because treatment is covered by ACC, and chiropractors are able to call themselves “Dr” even though they aren’t trained medical professionals, people think chiropractic is medicine. In fact, chiropractic manipulations aren’t entirely risk free. While rare, there have been documented cases of torn arteries, strokes and broken backs (see for example here and here).

I was also a little alarmed to read that you believe there is “nothing wrong with … getting the flu”, that “if you have a healthy immune system you can deal with it”. That’s just not true. Even healthy people can have serious complications after being infected with the influenza virus.

What’s more, the flu virus is ever-changing (that’s why we have a new vaccine every year), and some forms can be even more deadly than normal. Remember “swine” flu? The H1N1 version of the influenza virus that emerged in 2009 caused pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) even in healthy people, and killed thousands. You should probably have a chat with Sam Pohe. She’s a community nurse who was so busy giving people their flu jabs that she forgot to get her own and ended up in a coma after catching the flu. It’s well worth remembering that, even if you and your family catch an infectious disease like the flu and only have a mild version of it, you could still infect others with devastating consequences.

Yours sincerely,


Dr Siouxsie (not a medical doctor or in the pay of “Big Pharma”) Wiles, Microbiologist.

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