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BHA responds to consultation on charitable status of organisations promoting so-called ‘complementary and alternative medicines’

Homeopathic pills

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has submitted a response to a consultation by the Charity Commission on the registration of organisations that use or promote ‘complementary and alternative medicines’ (‘CAM’). In its submission, the BHA argues that ‘it is fundamental that charities must be able to demonstrate public benefit from their activities that is not offset by countervailing detriment.’ By failing to provide evidence that their treatments are efficacious in advancing health over and above taking no action or a placebo, organisations who promote ‘CAM’ remedies fall short of what should be required for charitable status.

The Charity Commission intends to use responses to this consultation to decide if its approach to the registration of CAM organisations should be changed and, if so, what changes will be implemented.

This consultation was launched in response to a legal challenge in September 2016 by the Good Thinking Society, set up by BHA patron Dr Simon Singh, over the Commission’s refusal to revoke charitable status from several organisations who advocate ‘CAM’ as a lifesaving and health-promoting treatment, including a charity offering homeopathic treatments for HIV. The Good Thinking Society campaigns against NHS funding of homeopathy and other ‘CAM’ treatments and has successfully challenged the decision of several Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) to finance these treatments.

In its response, the BHA argues that in order for ‘CAM’ organisations to be registered as charities, ‘They must demonstrate that their treatment is efficacious in advancing health over and above taking no action or taking a placebo, or there is a strong prospect that such efficacy could be established through research (for example, during the development of new drugs).’ Instead the BHA points to the importance of systematic reviews of randomised controlled trials as the way to establish which medicines do and do not work, and suggests the establishment of an expert panel by the Charity Commission to aid it in its assessment of different organisations’ claims.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘We are pleased that the Charity Commission has chosen to hold this consultation and is open to reviewing its policies regarding “CAM” organisations. It is inappropriate for the Charity Commission to continue to allow organisations that not only put vulnerable people at risk but actively harm them, offer no credible evidence of the efficacy of their products, and can demonstrate no public benefit to their activities, to enjoy the legal, financial, and reputational benefits of charitable status.’


For further comment or information, please contact BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on or 020 7324 3072.

Read more about our policies on CAM:

Read more about the work of the Good Thinking Society:

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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