In a BBC Panorama programme in 2009, the documentary makers travelled to China and all round the world to examine alleged stem cell treatment for blindness.
The film followed the progress of a Northern Ireland family whose daughter was left almost blind from a condition known as septo-optic dysplasia.
The family were understandably distraught and tried hard to find a cure for their child, as all loving families would. Thousands of pounds were raised for a treatment in China.
The programme’s presenter Darragh MacIntyre talked to some of the world’s foremost experts in stem cell treatment who said that some of the treatments being offered in parts of the world for such conditions could not work.
The documentary raised the troubling problem of people in terrible situations being exploited by potential ‘quack’ cures.
Now the respected British Medical Journal (BMJ) has said that crowdfunding appeals for cancer treatment are fuelling the use of such alternative quack therapies’. About £8 million has been raised for alternative treatments on UK crowdfunding sites since 2012, according to figures published in journal.
Michael Marshall, of the anti-pseudoscience charity The Good Thinking Society, said: “We are concerned that so many UK patients are raising huge sums for treatments which are not evidence-based and which in some cases may even do them harm.”
This is a grave problem, in which public goodwill, even at times sentimentality, meets exploitation.
It should be a very serious offence to exploit charitable giving, but that is almost impossible to police globally.
Charity is often vulnerable to bad people because there is so much kindness involved. The very fact that most charities are beyond reproach adds to the sense of trust and means that people want to give, rather than to ask probing questions.
It is, as the experts who have raised this matter suggest, a key next step that sites such as JustGiving and GoFundMe vet cancer appeals to stop patients and donors being exploited.