In essentially all of our essays, we attempt to explain all sides to each topic without giving a value judgment. This essay is an exception. We feel that the harm done to people by CAM can be so egregious that we are taking a stand, and are recommending greater control of alternative therapies. As a minimum, we recommend that all therapies be evaluated independently for safety and efficacy before they are used on large numbers of clients.
Pharmaceutical companies are very closely regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. and by corresponding government agencies in other countries. Their role is to carefully assess both the safety and efficacy of medications before they are released for public consumption.
But there are three other areas involving people's physical and mental well-being which are essentially unregulated. Without controls, they have the potential to do great harm:
One can only guess how tens of thousands of damaged lives could have been prevented if all mental health therapies, alternative medications and alternative treatments had been given the same type of rigorous screening in advance of release for general use as is routinely required for pharmaceuticals.
Call for research:
On 2000-JUL-13, President Clinton issued Executive Order 13147 2 and announced "the appointment of the Chair and the first 10 members of the White House Commission on Alternative Medicine. This commission, created by an executive order on March 8, 2000, is charged with developing a set of legislative and administrative recommendations to maximize the benefits of complementary and alternative medicine for the general public." 3
President Clinton's statement reads, in part:
The WHCCAMP committee:
Dr. James S. Gordon, of Washington DC. was selected to chair the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy group (WHCCAMP). He is a Harvard educated psychiatrist. 3 He had spent nearly thirteen years as a sannyasin (student) of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. He currently heads the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington DC. 4 He is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of Harvard psychiatrist Dr. John Mack's Program for Extraordinary Experience Research (PEER) -- a group that studies "anomalous experiences" such as abduction by LGM (Little Green Men) on board UFOs. 5 In his book "The Golden Guru," he praises "Orgone Therapy" in which energy released during the human orgasm is allegedly collected in "orgone boxes" and used to heal human ailments. "Dr Gordon has continued to speak at Orgonometry conferences." 6
On 2001-SEP-25, a group of academics and professionals "who specialize in the scientific evaluation of controversial and currently unsubstantiated treatments" issued a letter of concern to the Surgeon General of the United States, David Satcher. They noted that some "alternative and complementary medical practices, such as homeopathy and chelation therapy, have repeatedly been shown to be ineffective in controlled studies by independent investigators. Still other alternative and complementary medical practices have the potential to cause physical harm, and to lead individuals to forgo treatments that have been demonstrated to be effective. As a consequence, many of these practices subject the American public to considerable physical, financial, and emotional risk."
The letter called for subjecting "all novel and still largely untested claims to careful and impartial scrutiny using the best scientific methods available....we are deeply troubled that the Chairperson of this important commission is Dr. James S. Gordon, a psychiatrist whose expressed views regarding alternative and complementary medicine practices bespeak an extreme absence of objectivity regarding the scientific status of these practices. Moreover, Dr. Gordon's background, writings, and public statements point to a clear lack of commitment to a scientific approach regarding the causes and treatment of medical and psychological disorders."
They noted that none of the members of the WHCCAMP committee are skeptics of alternative medical techniques. All "appear to be either active practitioners of alternative medical techniques (e.g., acupuncture, chiropractic, herbal remedies) or strong proponents of these techniques. Some have even been key lobbyists for alternative medical practices over the years."
They urged the Surgeon General "in the strongest possible terms to call for the disbanding of this commission as it presently stands and to reconstitute it with a group of respected researchers and practitioners (including recognized scientific experts in medicine, physiology, biochemistry, nutrition, psychology, research design, and statistical methods) who can provide you and others in the federal government with objective and well informed policy recommendations concerning alternative and complementary medical practices." 7 The advice was ignored; the committee continued its work.
The WHCCAMP report:
The committee's 2002-MAR report promotes "Complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM, [which] can be defined as a group of medical, health care, and healing systems other than those included in mainstream health care in the United States. CAM includes the worldviews, theories, modalities, products, and practices associated with these systems and their use to treat illness and promote health and well-being."
They divide CAM into six domains:
The report acknowledges a lack of knowledge of CAM's efficacy, safety and potential for adverse interactions with orthodox medication: They state that: "...most CAM therapies that are currently being used by consumers have not been studied adequately in regard to either efficacy or safety...Even when evidence indicates that a particular CAM approach or modality is safe and effective for a particular condition, new safety concerns may arise when it is used in conjunction with conventional medications, which is the way most consumers use CAM." The WCCAMP report admits that most CAM therapies are experimental, and may be unsafe and/or useless.
Skeptics would argue that the only rational response would be:
The report recommends that "human subjects participating in clinical studies receive the same protections as are required in conventional medical research." However, it does not recommend stopping any existing CAM therapies, some of which are essentially large-scale experimental, unproven, and uncontrolled human experiments using chemicals, devices, and treatments that whose safety is unknown. No mention is made anywhere in their report about the conditions under which a CAM therapy would be discontinued as a result of a unfavorable research study.
However, the report recommends that "Federal agencies should assess the
scope of scientific, practice, and public interest and needs regarding CAM that
are relative to their missions, examine their portfolios, and develop funding
distribution strategies to address these interests and needs."
Related essay on this web site:
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Consultants on Religious Tolerance