Dear Swift Friends:My name is Steve Thoms and I'm the editor of the new pan-Canadian skeptic blog, Skeptic North. Thanks to some friendly promotional assistance from Phil Plait, Skepchick.org and many other sites to whom our team owes a debt of gratitude, you may have heard of us by now. If not, that's okay, because we've only launched on October 1st. We're a team of skeptical writers, professionals and activists from across Canada, brought together in one place for the first time. Our aim is to be the authority of all things related to skepticism in Canada, and it is with this last point in mind that I come to you all with an urgent call for action and assistance.
As Skeptic North's resident science-based pharmacist reported week, the Ontario legislature is poised to grant prescription rights to naturopaths. I think I hardly need explain to Swift readers how dangerous this is, but please indulge me in a little exposition.
Bill 179 was introduced in the spring of this year as a way of expanding scope-of-practice for health care professionals in Ontario, including (but not limited to) nurses, midwives, pharmacists and radiologists. Such an expansion was recommended by the Health Professions Regulatory Advisory Council (HPRAC), and this organization also recommended further that naturopaths be granted prescription rights. The Bill would have aimed to do this by amending a previous act of the Ontario Legislature, the Naturopathy Act, 2007. In this act, a "naturopath" is defined simply as someone who graduated from one of the two naturopathic colleges in Canada (neither of which are affiliated with any Canadian accredited university, and have extensive courses in homeopathy, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and colonic hydrotherapy). After the first reading of the bill, the HPRAC's recommendation for naturopath prescribing rights were soundly rejected. Before the bill's second-reading, a coalition of naturopathic associations organized a write-in campaign to put the naturopathic amendment back into the bill, and they were successful on Oct 20.
The bill itself has gone through two readings so far, and the third and final reading has been ordered (but not yet scheduled). The current session of the Ontario legislature will likely be over in less than a month, so the bill will likely be presented for it's third reading, at which point it will be enshrined in law. Then naturopaths, homeopaths, acupuncturists, and Reiki practitioners will have the right to prescribe anti-inflammatory, anti-biotic, and narcotic (just to name a few) medications.
Supporters of the naturopath expansion have framed this issue in two disingenuous and/or problematic narratives: one of freedom, and one of access. The former is being presented as allowing Ontario citizens the freedom to seek out alternative health modalities and freedom for naturopaths to prescribe medications that they need to; the latter as a way of dealing with the doctor shortage. Both of these arguments are deeply concerning, because a) there is no law in Canada that prohibits citizens from seeking alternative treatments, and b) if a person who requires legitimate medical attention and feels they are unable to see a doctor in a timely manner, they are far more likely to seek out alternative avenues, potentially finding a dangerously-untrained and under-qualified naturopath.
This is not a matter of freedom of choice, nor is it a matter of helping deal with the doctor shortage. This is about granting political legitimacy to a pseudo-science when it's practitioners are unable to gain legitimacy the way that conventional medicine does: through science, evidence, testing, and peer-review. Most people are not skeptics, and when they hear "Naturopathic Doctor," many are just as likely to see the holder of title as just another primary care provider. Think about that when your mother needs heart medication, or your nephew gets an ear infection.
For further information, visit the above links as well as my own follow-up posts here and here. These links will provide a helpful background and analysis of the practice of naturopathy, its academic standards, the bill itself, and how best to respond. British Columbia has already passed similar legislation, but it's generally the way of things in Canada that however Ontario goes, so-goes the rest of Canada. We really need everyone's help defeating this affront to health care standards and patient safety. If we beat them in Ontario, we just might stop them in their tracks.
Thanks a million