When her sister was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, Sarah Thorp turned to crowdfunding platform GoFundMe, launching a campaign to pay for her sister to attend the Integrative Whole Health Clinic, an alternative therapy center in Mexico that offers treatments such as coffee and flax seed enemas.
While such treatments don’t have any evidence indicating their efficacy, a lead physician at the clinic claimed a 75 percent success rate since 2000 in patients with cancers like Thorp's. So, the two spent three weeks at the clinic to the tune of $21,000. Although Thorp says the center gave her sister a sense of hope where there was none, she died just over a year after returning.
Her story is one of many illustrating the extent of these fundraisers for disproven treatments, yet little oversight exists to hold crowdfunding platforms accountable for hosting them, reports an investigation published in BMJ.
In the UK alone, crowdfunding sites for cancer health raised at least £8 million ($10 million) since 2012, much of which was spent overseas, according to data compiled by Good Thinking Society, a charity that promotes scientific thinking.
When people are very ill, project director Michael Marshall says they are at their most vulnerable to someone “offering them disproven treatments that offer little but false hope.” He says crowdfunding sites need to vet campaigns citing alternative therapies that include discredited drugs, extreme dietary regimes, intravenous vitamin C, alkaline treatments, and others with no scientific backing to their efficacy.