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Protecting the stupid… but from whom?

Russell Leslie wrote in to disagree with David Carr‘s article Buddy, can you spare a lime?

“Even a child knows that nobody ever died from eating vitamins or herbal supplements.”

To which Russell writes:
Actually – people (specifically asthmatic children) die from the common alternative remedy “royal jelly” on a regular basis. People think of royal jelly as being a wonderful natural remedy but it does kill people.

Vitamin A, a fat soluble vitamin, will kill in excessive concentrations. Though generally the people that have died have been people that have eaten the livers of sharks, seals and (ooh! gross) dogs – rather than store bought vitamin supplements.

Comfrey can lead to internal bleeding in excessive doses (there are some reports that Calendula can do this as well, though I am not clear on how reliable these reports are).

Herbal remedies are fine when intelligently used – unfortunately some people do not have the mental wattage to do anything intelligently. It is not to protect the intelligent that some form of controls may be needed – only the truly stupid need protection – but no one wants to admit that they are stupid. It is difficult to devise a system of controls protects the stupid but that doesn’t get in the way of the skilled or intelligent.

However whilst Russell makes some good technical points, I think he asks a very leading question: how do we protect the ‘stupid’ from the consequences of their own actions?

This seems to accept as axiomatic that, firstly, people who take ‘excessive’ doses of vitamins or herbal supplements are necessarily stupid… and secondly that anyone has the right to ‘protect’ said ‘stupid’ people from their own actions. The first point is highly conjectural and the second is morally dubious to put it mildly. Surely the best way to induce sensible decision making to not to insulate people from the consequences of their actions, be they the people who take alternative remedies or the people who market them.

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