Family uses loophole to allow live fish swallowing

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An Indian family that offers people an asthma therapy which involves swallowing a live fish is to use a legal loophole to allow them to continue, despite restrictions placed on the practice by the Indian government.

The Bathini Goud family claims that swallowing a murrel (a small snakehead species) with a special paste stuffed inside its mouth will prevent illnesses such as asthma if taken each year for three years.

However, in previous years scientists have disputed the medical efficacy of the "medicine" and the family is no longer allowed to call the live fish a cure or drug.

According to a report from the India News, a petition from Jana Vignana Vedika of the Indian Medical Association led to the Andhra Pradesh High Court, ruling that the family could not describe the live fish as medicine. However, it would not ban the practice despite evidence which has shown that the treatment has no medical value.

The India News says that this year the family intends to continue offering the live fish and is remarketing them under the name of "prasadam" or holy offering.

It says that the Indian government is supporting the event by allowing it to be staged at the Exhibition Grounds, and thousands of people will gather today to commence swallowing the live fish.

The ritual starts at 3.42pm this afternoon to coincide with the Mrigasira Karti, the onset of monsoon, on the Hindu calendar and continues for 24-hours. In previous years 50-650,000 people have swallowed live fish at the event.

Nothing but a placeboThe 159-year old recipe for the paste that is stuffed into the mouth of the live snakehead before it is swallowed is shrouded in secrecy.

In 2004, the Indian Medical Association questioned its formulation under the Drugs and Magical Remedies Act (1954).

The IMA said that if the family wished to market the live snakehead as a medicine then it must declare its formula.

Three academic institutions who studied the paste-stuffed murrels confirmed that the "medicine" is simply a placebo with no medicinal value.

Dr Ajit Vigg told the British Medical Journal that swallowing a snakehead stuffed with magical paste is not going to cure a patient's asthma: "On the contrary. We have seen 10-15% of patients whose condition has worsened.

"In my 20-25 years of practice I have not seen a single patient whose condition has either improved, or who has got completely cured with fish medicine."