11. Several deceased animals were bizarrely and incorrectly used in the treatments of medical conditions, notably shark cartilage for cancer and whale carcasses for arthritis
A prominent feature of this medical insanity was, and, in fact, remains the use of shark cartilage to treat human cancers. Building on mythical beliefs concerning the alleged healing powers of sharks, particularly the debunked idea that the species does not develop cancerous tissue – in fact, sharks suffer from 42 known varieties of cancer – in the 1950s Dr. John Prudden, of the prominent and respected Harvard University, pushed the uncorroborated theory that the consumption of ground shark cartilage in pill form could serve as a viable alternative to orthodox cancer treatments. Not only ineffectual, with the world-leading Mayo Clinic in 2005 definitively stating after extensive testing that it “was unable to demonstrate any suggestion of efficacy for this shark cartilage product in patients with advanced cancer”, this incorrect assumption by Dr. Prudden has resulted in a significant decline in wild shark populations due to their mass hunting for alternative medical purposes, a practice which regrettably continues to this day.
Equally bizarre, in the late-19th century the popular belief emerged that sitting inside the carcass of a whale would cure the pains of rheumatism. Stemming, incredibly, from the claims of a drunken Australian in Eden in 1896, who had years prior fallen into a whale’s carcass and woken up some hours later free of his usual discomforts and pains, the story was immediately published without scientific inquiry by newspapers worldwide under the headline of “a new cure for rheumatism”. Claiming that “a gentleman of convivial habits but grievously afflicted with rheumatism” had been instantly cured by such methods, the practice subsequently spread and a public perception begun that a several hour stay inside a deceased whale carcass would bring 12 months of pain relief from the arthritic condition. Although it has been questioned just how widespread this incredibly moronic practice truly was, it was clearly not insubstantial as the Sydney Morning Herald described such treatment occurring in a normal fashion, detailing that “the whalers dig a sort of narrow grave in the body and in this the patient lies for two hours, as in a Turkish bath, the decomposing blubber of the whale closing round his body, and acting as a huge poultice”.