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Association Against Quackery v. Sickesz

2009 May 18

Court: Netherlands Supreme Court

Date: May 15th, 2009

LJN number: BH1193

Case: The publication 'Quackery in the twentieth century' of the Dutch Association Against Quackery (founded in 1881) contained a quack top 20 list, ranking therapist Maria Sickesz seventh on the list. The list was subsequently published in the Dutch national press. Maria Sickesz demanded a court order forbidding the association to call her a quack and ordering it to place a rectification in two national newspapers. The Court denied the claim, but the Court of Appeal ruled against the Association, basically on two grounds. Quackery is a term used for unproven or fraudulent medical practices. Although the association used in the first sense, the general public understands it in the second detrimental sense and this makes the publication of a list of quacks unlawful. In a highly critisized paragraph of the decision the Court of Appeal ruled that the absence of research in accordance with the standard of Evidence Based Medicine, does not make a treatment the equivalent of quackery. The Court of Appeal went as far as to condemn the association to rectify the publications, ordering it to inform the public that 'it cannot be upheld that Sickesz' treatments have no effect (whatsoever).'

Held: The association was entitled to warn the general public and to make use of the word quack in the public debate. The association's use of the word quack in the neutral meaning of the word, cannot be denied where freedom of expression is secured in paragraph 1 of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Moreover, the Supreme Court ruled that Sickesz' claim to be able to cure schizophrenia by manipulating neck vertebrae is so poorly supported by science that without additional explanation by the Court, it cannot be asked from the association to inform the general public that 'it cannot be upheld that Sickesz' treatments have no effect (whatsoever).' The case was subsequently referred to another Court of Appeal to further decide on the facts of the case.

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