On Tuesday's GFB: Timothy Caulfield- February 12th

Feb 11, 2013

By Dale Goldhawk

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11:15am ET | Timothy Caulfield,  LLM, FRSC, FCAHS


GUEST – Timothy Caulfield,  LLM, FRSC, FCAHS – Canada Research Chair in Health Law & Policy Health Senior Scholar, Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research Professor, Faculty of Law and School of Public Health Research Director, Health Law and Science Policy Group

TOPIC – Creation of the College of Naturopathic Doctors of Alberta

INFO – “By granting self-regulation, we’re attesting, as elected representatives, to the public that we believe the practices that will be engaged in by professionals are safe and that they’re effective and that they meet the highest possible standard.”

The above statement was made in 2012 by the Alberta Health Minister, Fred Horne, during a press conference to announce the granting of regulated status to naturopaths. The mood at the press conference, which received a good deal of coverage, appeared to be upbeat and positive. It was portrayed as a good-news story. It was, apparently, a victory for those who want more health-care options. It was a victory for patient choice, autonomy and open-mindedness.

My reaction was somewhat less than positive.

The granting of regulated status — which includes the creation of the College of Naturopathic Doctors of Alberta — may seem a relatively benign political act. It will lead to more standardization and, I guess, promote safety.

However, it may also foster a misunderstanding about the services provided by these practitioners. It may create the impression that the therapies are supported by good science. It casts a veil of legitimacy over the work of naturopaths and, one could argue, implies that all services that are offered are efficacious. Indeed, Minister Horne was explicit. He said that the granting of self-regulation demonstrates to the public that the Alberta government “believe[s] the practices [are] effective.”


Allow me to lay my admittedly love-of-science, rant-tainted cards on the table. In general, the services provided by naturopaths reside either in the realm of commonsense lifestyle advice (get lots of sleep, eat well and stay active) or they have little empirical evidence to support their use. In fact, many naturopathic practices are based on a semi-spiritual theory (the healing power of nature), and have no foundation in science. They reside largely in the realm of pseudoscience.

….. I do not know if my arguments will convince a single person to stop using homeopathy. Homeopathy is a faith-informed practice and, as such, largely impervious to rational argumentation. No amount of evidence (and there is a mountain of it) will convince advocates that homeopathy is merely water. But I do hope that, in the future, provincial governments across Canada will take more care in the way they address these regulatory issues — that is, unless they wish to abandon evidence-based approaches to health care and embrace the supernatural and pseudoscientific.” – 2013 edition of C2C Journal

Reprinted from the Winter, 2013 edition of C2C Journal, whose theme is “Quacks and Conspiracies: The undermining of science and your health.” Timothy Caulfield is the Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy; a professor in the Faculty of Law and the School of Public Health, University of Alberta; and the author of The Cure for Everything: Untangling the Twisted Messages about Health, Fitness and Happiness. Follow him on Twitter: @CaulfieldTim.

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