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Why Did We Call Prince Charles Foolish and Immoral?


Edzard Ernst

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 42.3, May / June 2018

I was recently reported for calling Britain’s heir to the throne “foolish and immoral.”1 The quote happens to be correct; it comes from our new book titled More Good Than Harm? The Moral Maze of Complementary and Alternative Medicine.2 In it, the ethicist Kevin Smith and I discuss the many ethical issues around alternative medicine and essentially conclude that it is not possible to practice alternative medicine ethically.

The exact quote from our book relates to Charles’s promotion in 2004 of something called the Gerson diet for cancer:

Despite the fact that they have attained their high positions merely through accidents of birth, monarchs undoubtedly have a good deal of influence over their “subjects.” It is therefore inescapable that many cancer patients will have been given false hope by the utterances of Prince Charles. Accordingly, we consider his public support for unproven cancer treatments to be both foolish and immoral.

Charles’s foolishness in respect to the promotion of quackery has, in my opinion, been demonstrated multiple times.3 His love affair with all things alternative started early in his life. As a teenager, Charles was taken by Laurence van der Post on a journey of “spiritual discovery” into the wilderness of northern Kenya. The fantasist van der Post wanted to attune Charles to the vitalistic ideas of Carl Jung, and it clearly is this belief in vitalism that provides the link to alternative medicine.

Throughout the 1980s, Charles lobbied for the statutory regulation of chiropractors and osteopaths in the United Kingdom. In 1993, this finally became reality. In 1982, Charles was elected as president of the British Medical Association (BMA). In his inauguration speech, the prince lectured the medics: 

Through the centuries healing has been practised by folk healers who are guided by traditional wisdom which sees illness as a disorder of the whole person, involving not only the patient’s body, but his mind, his self-image, his dependence on the physical and social environment, as well as his relation to the cosmos.

In 1993, Charles founded his Foundation for Integrated Health (FIH), which was closed in 2010 amid allegations of money laundering and fraud. In 2005, Charles commissioned the “Smallwood Report,”4 which stated that up to £480 million ($675 million) could be saved if one in ten family doctors offered homeopathy as an “alternative” to standard asthma treatments and that savings of up to £3.5 billion ($5 billion) could be achieved by offering spinal manipulation rather than drugs to people with back pain. To avert such nonsense from being implemented, I had publicly commented on this report before its publication. Prince Charles’s first private secretary therefore asked the vice chancellor of my university to investigate my alleged indiscretion; even though I was found to be not guilty of any wrong-doing, all local support at Exeter stopped, which eventually led to my early retirement.

In a 2006 speech to the general assembly of the World Health Organization, Charles urged the delegates to globally integrate conventional and alternative medicine into the mainstream. In 2009, the prince told our Secretary of Health that “despite waves of invective over the years from parts of the medical and scientific establishment … I cannot bear people suffering unnecessarily when a complementary approach could make a real difference” and opposed “large and threatened cuts” in the funding of homeopathic hospitals. He also complained that referrals to the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital were sabotaged by “what seems to amount to a recent anti-homeopathic campaign” despite “the fact that these homeopathic hospitals deal with many patients with real health problems who otherwise would require treatment elsewhere, often at greater expense.” In 2010, Charles even stated that he was proud to be perceived as “an enemy of the enlightenment.” In the same year, former fellows of the FIH launched a new organization, the College of Medicine and Integrated Health, aimed at supporting the use of alternative treatments on the National Health Service. One director of the college is Michael Dixon, formerly medical director of the FIH.5 Charles’s 2010 book Harmony is full of praise for even the most absurd forms of alternative therapies and bogus diagnostic tests.6

In 2011, Charles launched his Duchy Herbals Detox Tincture, which I publicly called the “Dodgy Originals Detox Tincture.”7 In 2015, The Guardian obtained the infamous “black spider memos,” which revealed that Charles had repeatedly lobbied politicians in favor of alternative medicine. In 2016, speaking at a global leaders’ summit on antimicrobial resistance, Charles explained that he had switched to organic farming on his estates because of the growing threat from antibiotic resistance and now treats his cattle with homeopathic remedies rather than conventional medication.

So, is it unfair to call Charles “foolish and immoral”? The late Christopher Hitchens would probably have denied this question:

So this is where all the vapid talk about the “soul” of the universe is actually headed. Once the hard-won principles of reason and science have been discredited, the world will not pass into the hands of credulous herbivores who keep crystals by their sides and swoon over the poems of Khalil Gibran. The “vacuum” will be invaded instead by determined fundamentalists of every stripe who already know the truth by means of revelation and who actually seek real and serious power in the here and now. One thinks of the painstaking, cloud-dispelling labor of British scientists from Isaac Newton to Joseph Priestley to Charles Darwin to Ernest Rutherford to Alan Turing and Francis Crick, much of it built upon the shoulders of Galileo and Copernicus, only to see it casually slandered by a moral and intellectual weakling from the usurping House of Hanover. An awful embarrassment awaits the British if they do not declare for a republic based on verifiable laws and principles, both political and scientific.8


Edzard Ernst

Edzard Ernst, MD, PhD, is emeritus professor in the Complementary Medicine unit, Peninsula Medical School, Exeter, U.K.