‘Gofundme’ Has A Dark Side

In all, 13,621 GoFundMe donors pledged US$1.4 million for homeopathic and other 'garbage' cancer treatments, authors found.
In all, 13,621 GoFundMe donors pledged US$1.4 million for homeopathic and other ‘garbage’ cancer treatments, authors found.

The 47-year-old mother from Tennessee had chosen to forgo traditional cancer treatments for her late stage breast cancer and rely on natural therapies instead.

“I am a cancer patient, NOT a chemo patient,” she posted on the online fundraising site GoFundMe. “Chemo is a serious poison” that destroys bones, kidneys and livers, and “decimates” the immune system, she said. So she is trying to raise money for homeopathic and other natural therapies, including juicing organic carrots.

It’s an example of the rapidly growing practice of people using crowdfunding for alternative cancer treatments — a phenomenon that’s helping finance and promote scientifically baseless therapies while raising false hopes for desperate people, according to the authors of a study appearing in this week’s issue of The Lancet.

Bioethicist Jeremy Snyder of Simon Fraser University and the University of Alberta’s Timothy Caulfield searched GoFundMe for medical crowdfunding campaigns that included the words “cancer” and various versions of “homeopathy.” As of June 2018, they identified 220 campaigns, the bulk of them in the U.S., but also 23 in Canada.

For each campaign, they recorded information about the amount of money requested and pledged, the number of donors, the number of Facebook shares, the person’s rationale for seeking alternative treatment and, to the best of their ability, whether the person had died. (They also searched obituary records).

In all, 13,621 donors pledged US$1,413,482 (24 per cent of the US$5.8 million requested.)

The campaigns were shared on Facebook 112,353 times.

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