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Medical community skeptical about Ontario’s move to regulate homeopaths

April 1, 2015 – Ontario's move to regulate the field of homeopathy in a way similar to how it governs doctors and nurses, making it the first province to do so, is being greeted with skepticism from some in the medical and scientific community.


April 1, 2015
By Diana Mehta The Canadian Press

Topics

The province’s Homeopathy Act, which has been in the works since 2007, is set to receive royal assent Wednesday.

Critics
fear the legislation will lend legitimacy to homeopathy, which has been
debunked by some as having no basis in science. For the provincial
government, however, the move is meant to protect those who do seek out
the alternative treatment.

“I see this as an issue partly of
public safety, to provide for our homeopaths a standard of care and
guidelines under which they are expected to practice,” said Ontario
Health Minister Eric Hoskins.

“It gives an opportunity, for the
first time, if there’s a patient of a homeopath that feels that he or
she hasn’t received the level of care expected… a place to go
formally, where they can lodge a complaint or ask for advice or a
decision to be made.”

Hoskins added that it’s up to educated Ontarians to choose the form of health care they want to be provided with.

Homeopathy
is based on the concept that “like cures like.” Illnesses are treated
by using highly diluted doses of substances that in larger amounts would
produce the symptoms of the ailment.

For some observers, the new legislation is a double-edged sword.

“It
now gives the homeopaths an appearance that they are now a health
profession just like doctors and nurses. Nothing in homeopathy makes any
sense based on science. So that’s a problem,” said Dr. Matthew
Stanbrook, a deputy editor with the Canadian Medical Association Journal, who is also an assistant professor at the University of Toronto.

“On
the other hand, it does now pose a regulatory framework and a mechanism
for regulation on a group of people who are treating people with
medical conditions.”

The Canadian Society of Homeopaths, a
national association for practitioners in the field, gives the example
of someone suffering from hay fever, which brings on watery eyes,
sneezing and a runny nose, being treated with a homeopathic remedy made
from red onion.

The Ontario College of Homeopathic Medicine,
which describes itself as a not-for-profit educational institution, adds
that homepathy “treats the person, not the disease” and can therefore
be used for patients with all types of conditions, from colds to cancer.

Ontario’s
new legislation will establish the College of Homeopaths of Ontario as
the governing body for the profession in the province.

A
transitional council – which has been working on a framework for
self-regulation – will evolve into the college on Wednesday with the
authority to register homeopaths, administer a quality assurance program
and investigate complaints.

The council declined to comment when asked about the consequences of Homeopathy Act coming into effect.

Health Canada already regulates homeopathic products sold in the country to ensure they are safe to use.

The
harm that arises with homeopathy, Stanbrook argued, is when patients
with serious medical conditions substitute homeopathic remedies for
western medicine.

Stanbrook pointed to a case in Alberta where a
boy who had a bacterial throat infection that is routinely treated with
antibiotics died because he received only homeopathic treatment.

“That’s
an example of how homeopathy can lead to some very serious consequences
when it’s given capriciously and irresponsibly,” he said.

“Now
that we have a college, will there be some standards of training for
homeopaths to know what a serious medical illness that requires a doctor
is? And will it impose a professional obligation for those
practitioners to refer in those circumstances.”

With a body for
members of the public to go to with concerns, the profession could see
increased accountability, added Douglas Angus, an University of Ottawa
professor who studies heath policy.

“It’s better to have a
regulatory environment than not having a regulatory environment,” he
said. “The various legal and ethical issues that crop up over periods of
time will inevitably have an impact on the regulatory environment.”


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