The real reason I took on ‘Healing on the Streets’

I am on this weeks Pod Delusion episode talking about the whole story surrounding the ‘Healing on the Streets’ and ASA story – from the very beginning to the very end. It was the first time I’ve really ever gone into detail about the health conditions that led me to be so ruthless when it comes to challenging evidence-less health claims. You should head over to the Pod Delusion site, subscribe and have a listen today – however I’ve lifted a tiny bit of what I wrote for the episode so that I can explain here what it is that motivated me to keep an eye out for people making claims about being able to treat or heal health conditions in a way that has no evidential basis.

I had been suffering with terrible pain in my right ear for about four years before, at the age of about Eighteen, a doctor standing in for my normal doctor noticed that I had a massive growth in there – a condition called Cholesteatoma [warning: pictures are not pretty]. A few weeks after that I saw an ENT specialist at Bath Royal United Hospital and was told that if it wasn’t operated on within three months I’d probably get meningitis, facial paralysis and possibly a brain tumor and then I’d die. His words were ‘you have two options – have the operation and get better, or don’t have the operation, become very ill and die’. I remember I laughed at his frankness, and then he hadn’t laughed back and I’d realised it was serious.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been faced with your own imminent death, but when it happens you often get very frustrated. I was in constant pain and had to wait over two months until I was operated upon. I don’t think I’ll ever put into words how scared I was, or how desperate I was. I would have done anything to speed up my chance of survival and recovery. Luckily for me I was too poor to buy any alternative treatments offered by well meaning friends and colleagues. I couldn’t afford to have acupuncture, to buy homoeopathic remedies, visit the local psychic healer or buy magnetic bracelets.

It’s that whole experience that made me aware of people who offer people false hope when they’re quite unwell. There’s no shortage of people who offer miracle cures to those with terminal illnesses or incurable disease. Some of the time they’re misguided themselves and genuinely mean well, other times they’re leeching off the misfortune of others and making a fast profit from doing so.

Because of this, I make a habit of collecting leaflets, cutting adverts out of magazines and newspapers and taking business cards from people who offer such cures so that I can report them to Trading Standards or the Advertising Standards Authority, an independent regulatory body. It makes me sound like a loser with nothing better to do, but because I’ve been the person who would have willingly paid good money to be magically cured of my illness while facing my own death, I see these adverts and think about how a younger me with a growth in her ear would have reacted. I think of those people I know who are terminally ill, or those I’ve lost as a result of illness or disease and I do what I can to stop those vulnerable because of their ill health being exploited or hurt.

I continue to make numerous complaints as and when I see claims that are misleading, and over the years, since the age of 18, I have made dozens and dozens of complaints to the ASA and Trading Standards. The ‘Healing on the Streets’ complaint was just one of many. I am motivated by my own experiences as someone who was very sick and vulnerable rather than, say, my atheism which is what the Daily Mail and other international news sources suggested when they referred to me as ‘Atheist Hayley Stevens’.

I was surprised though to find that other skeptical people also assumed that I was being an atheist activist when I made the complaint when really it was my skepticism of many health claims that caused me to make the complaint. Lots of people criticised the Daily Mail for their labelling of me as ‘Atheist Hayley Stevens’ while simultaneously assuming that it was my atheism that caused me to complain despite the fact that I’ve written in numerous places that I initially thought the healers I encountered in Bath were Psychic Healers like ones I’ve complained about before.

Assessing claims made by others is what lays at the centre of my approach to life – although this has led me to identify as atheist, this skeptical approach I have to life is not equal to my atheism. Skepticism isn’t a belief or non belief that I hold (but atheism is). People find that confusing, and in turn they confuse me.

I hate to imagine what many people who have praised me for making my complaint to the ASA would think if they knew I was an athiest who doesn’t want Religion to go away…

Further reading:

Scientific Skepticism, CSICOP and the local groups | Steve Novella & David Bloomberg, August 1999 (h/t Kylie Sturgess)
‘What Matters’| Barbara Drescher, ICBS Everywhere blog
Mission drift, Conflation & Food for Thought| Barbara Drescher, ICBS Everywhere blog

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8 Comments to “The real reason I took on ‘Healing on the Streets’”

  1. Christopher Heward // 8 June, 2012 at 5:15 pm // Reply

    Hi Hayley, Thanks fpr your post. I just wondered, above you say ‘I initially thought the healers I encountered in Bath were Psychic Healers like ones I’ve complained about before’, and you also say that ‘[a]ssessing claims made by others is what lays at the centre of my approach to life’. However, the leaflet makes it clear that HOTS were a group of Christians from a variety of Church congregations around Bath, and that they believed God could heal people, with no mention of phychic powers. This made me wonder to what level you had assessed HOTS Bath’s claims before you complained. I also wondered what exactly it was you were complaining about – was it the leaflets? If so did you read the leaflet? If it was about the ministry/service itself, then did you speak to HOTS Bath to ask what service they were offering (a kind of ‘secret shopper’ thingy)?

    Hope you have recovered now :)

    Best wishes,

    Christopher

    • Hello,

      When I first encountered the group I only say their large banner that reads ‘healing’. I took a leaflet, put it in my bag but didn’t look at it or think anything of for a bit. Then I found the leaflet again and saw the claims being made, looked on their website where there were more claims and decided to complain to the ASA to see if they agreed the claims were misleading.

      I complained about the specific health conditions listed on the leaflet and not the fact that the group are Christian. I have nothing against Christians.

  2. Hmm, seems like I picked the wrong week to unsubscribe from the Pod Delusion (nothing to do with the fabulous quality of their podcast – just lack of time)

  3. Kylie Sturgess // 10 June, 2012 at 6:29 am // Reply

    !! Sorry, I didn’t know you were collating the links I’d been putting onto Twitter! When I have some time, I’ll make a nice formal collection somewhere and maybe transcribe a podcast or two. Thanks!

  4. Hayley, your “…don’t know if you’ve ever been faced with your own imminent death..”. May I share two very personal instances and proffer factual evidence that God heals? First, my wife’s:

    She suffered severe allergic reactions and almost died from anaphylactic attacks, which not even the highest and most dangerous doses of steroids could combat and control. But these caused her spine to collapse and the risky procedure of cementing a vertebra didn’t fully work.

    Yes, she was at last free from pain but she was unable to walk any distance, needed a wheelchair and became registered as permanently disabled with all the necessary paraphernalia, plus financial living allowance. But unlike you, we knew and, although not easy, trusted in the Living God.

    Months later she received prayer in a church we were visiting and Jesus healed her to walk and dance straight away! AND that was in Bath! Knowing ‘God can heal today’ we therefore took exception to the ASA’s ruling. My wife has since permitted HOTS to use her documented testimony that she gives when speaking to ladies’ groups.

    Her account is just one example of the truth that God does what that medics cannot do; heal serious physical ailments.

    If you’re still with me, here’s another – An old friend came back into my wife’s life when doctors had told her she had only 3 months left and gave her no hope. So she was arranging to go into a hospice to die. That was 3 years ago! We’d prayed and helped her return to the medics and Jesus graciously extended her life. She’s recently returned from holiday in Spain – thank you Lord. The evidence of her healing? She’s not dead!!!

    Another – Three months ago in Hull my wife spoke at length with a lady who’d been three years in a wheelchair but healed the previous day from semi-paralysis. They both agreed the best thing about their miracles was the unexpected blessing of a good night’s sleep for the first time in ages!

    • These are your opinions and experiences, and I don’t mind you sharing them here – but please do not expect others to accept them at face value as proof of divine healing.

  5. Further to the previous, now my account:

    Like you, I was into the paranormal, as well as wanted to know what lay beyond life. Like you, I was confronted by my own immediate, terrifying death. Unlike you however, I was contemptuous of contemporary Christianity. Also, I went deeper into the supernatural, only to find myself face to face with its undesirable post-mortem consequences.

    Only then did I learn that the gospel of Jesus Christ really is true! Only a few years after marrying I was freed from the busy, sacrificial life of being my wife’s 24/7 carer! This was the immediate and direct consequence of His unexpectedly healing her – thank you Jesus! The evidence is our changed life styles!

    Hopefully Hayley, that as an investigator you’re able to reconsider your assumption that healing in Jesus’ name offers ‘hope where hope does not exist’ and that there really is solid evidence for physical healing.

    Hope all that may prove of interest. And may I suggest that you learn about and search for the best and most reliable ghost – the Holy Ghost. Why look for shades of the once alive but now dead when He can teach you about and show you the One who was dead but is now ALIVE? It’s a never-ending and exciting adventure!

    As the ancient sage Nahum wrote, ‘The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him’.

    May you be blessed with the knowledge of His deep love for you personally Hayley.

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