ABSTRACT Dónal P. O’Mathúna



Dónal P. O’Mathúna

– Ph.D.,Pharmacist – Member of the “Irish Skeptic Society”
– Professor of Ethics at the University of Dublin

Complementary & alternative medicine: Where medicine & religion meet

  • For an introduction to his presentation, Mr. O’Mathuna chose to present complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) through four main shared characteristics:
    • The rarity of official medical staff offering CAMs;
    • The scarcity or poor quality of scientific proof of the effectiveness and safety of this type of medicine;
    • The holistic approach to health and well-being;
    • And in tandem with this last point, religious content with the use of religious practices as therapy.
  • In the first part of his presentation, the speaker gave a broad overview of the development of the relationship between religion and medicine across the ages: intertwining aspects of the two separate worlds across the centuries in various cultures, followed by the secularisation of medicine in the West arising from the development of modern science and the advent of the Age of the Enlightenment and the current links between medicine and religion via these CAMs
  • In order to illustrate these religious roots, Mr. O’Mathuna then extensively developed several examples of offerings driven by the New Age ethos
    • He firstly gave details of an energy therapy, Reiki: he described its principles and the degrees of initiation calling on spiritual beings and religious roots. He also lamented the fact that practitioners hide the occult spiritual nature of this therapy from their clients.
    • He went on to deal with another energy-related practice also connected to occultism: touch therapy. He described this in broad terms – meditation, divination and work on the Prana, as well as connections with anthroposophy.
    • He also quoted Deepak CHOPRA, a leading propagandist for CAMs, who claims to be omnipotent, omniscient and like an eternal spirit providing a driving force behind all things.
    • Finally, he reported on a set of Sri Swami Satchidananda beliefs appropriated by Dean Ornish
  • In the last part of his presentation, Mr. O’Mathuna denounced the lies and omissions of CAM practitioners in the information they give to their clients.
    • The spiritual and religious roots of CAMs are, in effect, often hidden, thereby preventing a truly clear choice. This can even lead users into commitments conflicting with their own beliefs: some CAMs lead to occult practices and are therefore incompatible with certain Jewish and Christian principles.
    • The potentially harmful effects of CAMs are virtually kept secret. They do exist, however, even in energy therapies. With this in mind, the speaker stated that spiritual traditions including work on energy posed certain dangers.
    • The speaker ended by emphasising the negative psychological side effects of some CAMs. He spoke of the mental illnesses connected with Qigong and listed as such in the official “Chinese List of Mental Illnesses” document.
    • He also gave details on a series of symptoms noted in practitioners of transcendental meditation by trainers of this technique. The speaker finally reminded us of the call for caution and separation of the major world religions from the spiritual field, as they consider that alongside positive spiritual principles, negative principles exist.
  • Mr. O’Mathuna concluded by advocating a fair demarcation between the religious and medical aspects of CAMs: without this, reduced to simple therapeutic techniques, religion would be demeaned and corrupted and, with the establishment of new ministers of new religions, therapists would depart from their fields of expertise.
    The speaker also pushed for more honesty and demanded clear and full information for users, including both the religious content of CAMs and any negative effects caused by these practices.

Debate: This presentation provoked a great deal of questions and reactions from some quarters, which were surprised and even sceptical.