Naturopaths can kill, but regulating them is not the answer.

Over the weekend, the Sunday Star Times published an article by Simon Maude on an unnamed naturopath whose inept attempts at cancer treatment led to the death of an Auckland woman last year: Naturopathy under microscope after cancer sufferers speak from under shadow of death

At the same time, an article syndicated to Stuff from the Sydney Morning Herald detailed a court case in which a naturopath in Australia nearly killed a baby through their dietary advice for the infant’s eczema: Australian naturopath admits ‘raw food’ diet advice endangered baby’s life

As a result, the question has been raised of whether or not naturopaths should be regulated in the same way as medical doctors, pharmacists, and chiropractors.

In the Sunday Star Times article, vice president of the New Zealand Society of Naturopaths Sharon Erdrich laments what she sees as the root of the problem:

New Zealand Society of Naturopaths vice-president Sharon Erdrich says the society wants tighter regulations.

“In Germany, naturopaths are very heavily regulated, there’s regulation in the United States and Australia has some controls.”

Even though there is “potential for harm, basically anyone in New Zealand can call themselves a naturopath,” Erdich says.

(As an aside, Ms Erdrich’s clinic offers such bogus health services as quantum reflex analysis and live blood analysis, and an article she published in 2016 says “The first, and most important thing you can do” if you have cancer is to book an appointment with a naturopath.)

This argument was continued in an editorial in The Press this morning: New Zealand should require naturopaths to be registered

Here is the root of the argument, as expressed in that editorial:

Naturopathy is also enabled by tertiary institutes offering courses which are recognised by the official New Zealand Qualifications Authority framework.

This means that, even though anyone can claim to be a naturopath in New Zealand (there is no law stopping them), practitioners can arm themselves with diplomas and degrees and present themselves as equal to other health professionals.

That being the case, safeguards should be put in place for the public.

The most useful of these would be to require naturopaths to be registered, and made subject to similar disciplinary processes demanded of other health professionals when they can’t make good on their promises.

NZQA approving courses on quackery, such as their Certificate in Acute Prescribing with Homeopathy, is a real problem. But these calls for naturopaths to be registered are missing the point, I think.

The problem is not that “anyone can claim to be a naturopath in New Zealand”; the problem is that naturopathy is quackery. We already have regulation to address quackery, the real problem is that the existing regulation is not adequately enforced. Both the Fair Trading Act 1986 and the Medicines Act 1981 prohibit the misleading claims which are the basis of the practice of naturopathy.

For example, the Fair Trading Act prohibits the use of any “unsubstantiated representations”, as well as “conduct that is misleading or deceptive or is likely to mislead or deceive”, in trade. The Medicines Act prohibits the use of health testimonials (which can be both very convincing and entirely misleading), and claims to treat serious illnesses such as cancer, in advertisements.

The Sunday Star Times article also notes that naturopaths, despite not being subject to specific regulation, are still subject to the Health and Disability Code of Rights:

Regulation is not being considered as the ministry has not received an application from naturopaths to become regulated under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003.

Health practitioners including naturopaths remain subject to the Health and Disability Code of Rights, “whether they are regulated or not”.

Consumers may complain to the Health and Disability Commissioner about care.

The Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003, which regulates professions such as medical doctors and pharmacists, also prohibits anyone from claiming or implying that they are registered as or qualified to be registered as any type of regulated health professional. This is the provision that could prevent anyone not registered from calling themselves a naturopath.

We have already seen, here in New Zealand, that regulating a health profession prone to making misleading claims does not stop that practice. In research conducted by myself and Mark Honeychurch in 2016, we found that the majority of New Zealand chiropractors who advertise online make misleading claims about what they can treat. Including them in the regulatory scheme has not stopped this behaviour at all, rather it has just allowed them to continue misleading patients from a position of authority, able to use the protected title of “Dr”.

The Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act sets up authorities to regulate each health profession that is composed of members of that profession. The Medical Council, the Pharmacy Council, and the Chiropractic Board are all examples of this.

But a Naturopathy Board filled with naturopaths would not be able to effectively regulate naturopaths. Quacks can’t regulate quacks effectively. All regulating them would do is give them the appearance of legitimacy and authority.

The real problem with all of this regulation is that it is not enforced. The solution, therefore, should be simple: enforce it.

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4 thoughts on “New Zealand should not regulate naturopaths

  1. That’s why it’s necessary to attend only reliable and well-known clinics and specialists.When I had some problem with my back last year, I found physiotherapy clinic In Auckland here http://edenphysio.co.nz/ after a little research . Their specialists helped me to recover and now I know that natural remedies can be efficient too.

    1. Just took a peek at their website. Given they have this to say about acupuncture (which is not a view that’s supported by robust evidence), I don’t think that’s a clinic I’d feel comfortable going to myself:

      “The more serious ailments such as headaches, migraines, chest pains, poor blood circulation, bronchitis, digestive system disorders, skin conditions and musculoskeletal disorders can all be treated with this method.”

  2. As a normal person with no qualification I would like to say that a naturopath is just a ligit as doctors. People go to their doctors every single day and get put on medication with the most horrific side affects. They get miss diagnosed or their health goes bad because the cause is not being treated at all. Only supressed by harmful medication. So many peeple die of strokes and what not and they have been seeing their doktors maybe a few weeks before. Why is the finger not pointed to them then? But yet if someone dies being a patient of a naturopath, then people are quik to blame.
    I do not care what anyone say. Naturopaths and homeopaths use natural ways to assist the body to heal. People die after having chemo but then its said that it was the illness that killed them. Really? Doctors do not care if you get better at all. They want you to come back and I say that out of my own experience. I have been living with chronic pain for 11 years now. 10 Doctors and not one has done anything to realy find out what is wrong with me. Nothing. My daugther got a rash on her arm 4 years ago. 5 different doctors and each and every one treated her for something else. The same rash 5 diagosis and no result. My babies hair fell out. After 10 doctor visits and how many creams no result. One visit to a homeopath and twee weeks of natural medication her hair is growing back and its healing. But yet when doctorget sick or their direct family, then they are quik to knock on the doors of the naturopaths and homeopaths.
    Everyone should have the choice to deside what treatment they want to go for and have the same funding for any of the treatments they choose.
    People have died from medical treatment as well and thats the truth. I personally will never trust a doctor in my whole life. Yes they are great when it comes to saving lives when you are in hosiptal but the normal GP, I am sorry but to them it is just to make money and to make sure their customers come back for more.

    This is my opinion and no doctor will ever change that.
    Doctors in NZ have failed me so much. I have lost all my trust in them. I think they are stupid and know less then the average person on the street. I mean to google things while your patient is sitting there, no not okay.
    To tell me that I am having zeishers and you have only seen me for 5 minutes and not even do the normal blood presure or anything and then prescribe me with epilepsy meds. Hell no!!!!
    That was 8 months ago and here I am today. Have no idea where that man got his diagnosis from but thank God I did not drink it.
    You get idiots in every single profession out there no matter what profession. To say that naturopaths are not worthy of treating illnesses is nonsence. There are hundreds of people I have met that had hel and was healled after naturopathy or homeopathy. People that got their lives back.
    Lets take one thing. Nutrition. If doctors are so great, how is it then that the people that you trust with your health, do not even study 10% about nutrition.
    They don’t look at you and test difficiancies. They don’t go and test to see if you have toxic overload. Hell no they just give you a death pill to take the pain away. Off you go.
    So what the medical mafia is saying is that you can eat what ever you want cause nutritian has nothing to do with your health.
    I am 39 years old and not once in my whole life has any doctor asked me what my eating habbits are like.
    So why is doctors integrated? Who made that disition to say that they are worthy? The whole world should take a good look at what doctors really stand for because I can tell you know, it is not to heal you or to get you healty.
    Not at all.

  3. Hi, the article here and the cited journal article outlining your research findings are really interesting, thank you. I agree in general that all practitioners (both biomedical and ‘alternative’ or CAM) of medical/healing treatments and methods be registered and regulated in some way – and that neither of these strategies is of any use if regulations are not enforced – and I might add – actual consequences for transgressions and harms done.

    The small side-Issue I have with the presentation of the argument is the credibility factor was lessened a little by the closing comment, “quacks can’t regulate quacks effectively”. This may or may not be true but the implication is that anyone working in that arena is incapable of honest and rational critique of their own and colleague’s behaviour…whereas members of the other ‘traditional’ groups mentioned, are. There is nothing offered to back up this claim, and so while it is a catchy phrase, it sounds more like words of exasperation, uttered with the tone only one who comfortably belongs to the medical hegemony, can use.

    Sitting out there without any supporting evidence, the phrase could be argued to be an example of those unsubstantiated claims (made by naturopaths and the like) against which you are protesting. Perhaps that was the intention – to be an example? I suspect that any group of specialists in any field – if critiqued objectively from the outside – would be found to be less than perfect at being able to properly monitor, identify, and punish (?) those who transgressed.

    Oh, and for the record, no – I am not a CAM practitioner. I am currently retraining away from an IT career to the sub-clinical field of counselling (am an undergraduate Health Sciences student at AUT). One of the important skills I am learning in this course and a medical anthropology paper I am completing this semester at Massey uni is to understand other models of healing and medicine. However – as someone who has grown up with nurses, and married into a family of medical specialists, I find that while I am very accepting of ethnomedical traditions and practices for those who belong to the communities in which they exist or arose – I am very sceptical of very many – but not all – of the alternative (or appropriated) methods, modalities offered in the CAM world. As the person above seems to have alluded to, medical treatment harms do not only come from CAM practitioners, they also come from the biomedical world too.

    As an example, there are times I am utterly mortified by the manner in which some patients are treated if they refuse to accept chemotherapy or similar for a terminal illness which ‘may’ prolong their life by weeks or months, but which also, always, cause extreme, life-quality-sapping side-effects. Where is the ‘do no harm’ in those scenarios? It seems illogical to me that such ‘treatments’ which have appalling cure rates (if any) are still being pushed and used in terminal illnesses – and most especially when a patient may be stating they do not want them. It seems that the main difference between these biomedical no-win treatments and those of some of the disgraceful claims and actions of the naturopaths referred to in the article is that the biomedical treatments have been legitimised by gold standard research studies. This is good, except…neither cures the terminal patient, and the reported harms-by-medicine during treatment seem to fall more in the biomedical camp than the CAM camp. How much pain is done to the finances of patients in either world is another question which needs examining, for sure!

    In closing, in principle, I tend to agree with your stance more than I disagree, and am grateful for the thought-provoking article. There needs to be much more work done to identify the intersections between the two perspectives, and much more thought and analysis by all on how to best regulate, oversee, and deal with any issues arising from all registered groups offering medical / healing treatments in New Zealand. I do not think the dominant medical system should be above the same scrutiny as any wanna-be newcomer to the table, and its practices and views should not be blindly accepted as the standard by which all newcomers are measured.

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