A New Brunswick judge issued a controversial ruling this week when he declared that naturopaths — pseudoscience purveyors who promote a variety of “alternative medicines” like homeopathy, herbs, detoxes, and acupuncture — cannot legally call themselves “medically trained.”
It’s the right decision since, well, they’re not. It’s like calling Creationists “trained scientists.” Sure, they may have gone through the motions of people who are educated in the field, but it doesn’t mean they actually know what they’re talking about.
The lawsuit was filed because actual physicians were frustrated that fake doctors were using terms like “medical practitioner” and saying they worked at a “family practice.” They conveyed the idea that they were qualified at the same level as real doctors without disclosing the truth to their victims. This is especially problematic in New Brunswick where naturopaths are not regulated as they are in other Canadian provinces.
“The college has no interest in preventing naturopaths from doing what they do,” said lawyer John Barry, who represented the College of Physicians and Surgeons in the application.
“We don’t want to regulate naturopathy. They’re entitled to practise — as naturopathy.”
“But if it appears to the public that they are separate but equal alternatives to conventional medicine, that is why we are here today.”
That’s the right approach. Pseudoscientists are free to practice pretend medicine, but they have to be up front about it. They can’t put up a fake diploma like Christian pseudo-historian David Barton and strut around like they earned a Ph.D.
The argument from naturopaths was that they weren’t misleading anyone.
“There’s not even the slightest hint of evidence that anyone has been misled — or worse, harmed,” [attorney Nathalie Godbout] said. “This mythical patient that has to be protected by naturopathic doctors — I haven’t met them yet.”
Further, terms like “family medicine,” Basque said, “refer to the fact that I treat all ages, from a newborn to an elderly person, not that I am a general practitioner or an MD. There is nowhere on my website that says that.”
Justice Hugh McLellan wasn’t buying it.
In an oral decision, Justice Hugh McLellan said the justification for naturopaths using terms such as “doctor” and “family physician” are based on the assumption that “people are attuned to the meaning of words like “naturopathy.”
Many patients might read a website or a Facebook ad out of context, he said, and fail to pick up on the difference between “a doctor listing his or her qualifications as ‘Dr. So-and-So, B.Sc., MD,’ as opposed to the listing that might include ‘B.Sc., ND [naturopathic practitioner].'”
“I see a risk here,” McLellan said, “that the words … could, in fact, imply or be designed to lead the public to believe these various naturopaths are entitled to practise medicine.”
As far as punishment goes, there is none. The naturopaths won’t be fined. The real doctors won’t get legal fees. But the ruling will still apply moving forward. Naturopaths will no longer be able to suggest they’re legit doctors.
And if naturopaths are really upset, they can just take their diplomas, dilute them, and turn them into useful ones. (That’s how it works, right?)
Britt Marie Hermes, a former naturopath who now warns people about the shortcomings of the profession, told me she was thrilled with the judge’s ruling.
This is a very encouraging step in the right direction toward ensuring public safety. Naturopaths are not doctors. The onus should not be on patients to vet the credentials and competency of someone holding themselves out to be a medically trained physician. Now, patients will have an easier time separating truly medically qualified physicians from naturopathic practitioners. Bravo New Brunswick!
She’s right. This is a win for everybody on the side of health and science.
(Image via Shutterstock)