Church: Blackcurrant squash “cures” cancer

I used to think that selling sham cures was mainly the purview of quacks out to make some quick cash by exploiting desperate and vulnerable people, but it seems religion is getting in on the scam.

An investigation by the Manchester Evening News recently discovered that the Victorious Pentecostal Assembly (VPA) are selling blackcurrant squash and olive oil which they claim, once blessed by a pastor, can cure cancer, HIV, diabetes and other illnesses. In selling these (at about double the price you can get them from the supermarket) the VPA are taking advantage of vulnerable people who, out of desperation, are seduced by promises of quick, easy, side effect free solutions.

The lead pastor of the church in question has defended the practice, despite being in violation of the Cancer Act 1939. He claims that divine intervention is responsible for cases of people’s illnesses disappearing, rather than any of the more rational explanations, such as spontaneous remission or misdiagnosis.

Can this drink cure cancer? Probably not, since it’s apple and blackcurrant squash.

What worries me most about the pastor’s statement, though, is the phrase “We are not hurting anyone.” The same is often said regarding other nonsense remedies such as homeopathy and acupuncture, and the response is the same: sham cures cost lives. These remedies don’t work. Given the side effects associated with evidence-based cures (which do work) such as chemotherapy, it’s understandable that some people look for alternatives. Sadly, there are immoral people who are only too happy to take advantage of their desperation and con them out of their money. Now in possession of their too-good-to-be-true remedy the patient may decide to stop following the treatment path laid out for them by their doctor. After all, the quack guaranteed their product would work (the dead rarely come back to complain).

After stopping their original treatment individuals tend to feel better for a while. This is often wrongly attributed, in the mind of the patient, to their new regime. In fact, it’s solely due to halting the original treatment, and so being free of its side effects. The long term result is almost always a serious decline in health as the illness begins to re-assert itself in the absence of any effective medication.

So to Pastor Mbenga I have the following question: What are you going to tell the friends and families of those that you sell these “cures” to when they start dying of cancer, AIDS, etc? What will you say when it’s clear that the cure you promised would work has failed?

This isn’t the first time the VPA has made these kinds of claims. In fact, the VPA website carries the following disclaimer, probably as a result of those events:

The Victorious Pentecostal Assembly (VPA) programmes on TV contain testimonies of true stories by people who have received divine healing through the ministry of VPA. They gave these voluntarily without any directive from VPA. We advise you to always seek your medical practitioner’s advice before making any decision based on these programmes.

People like this who sell false hope to vulnerable people must not be allowed to continue, lest they harm anyone else.

Edit: Saying that remedies such as those mentioned above don’t work was a little heavy-handed of me. What I should have said was that there is no reliable evidence to suggest that they are any more effective than a similarly administered placebo.

Further reading:

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