Briefing Page for Journalists

Opposing the
White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy

“The Gordon Commission”

Turning Back the Clock on Science in Medicine

Promoting CAM via a White House Commission

At the White House in March 2000, a process was set in motion that threatens the basic health of the people of the United States. Pursuant to legislation passed by Congress, President Clinton formed a White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy (WHCCAMP). He and Congress wanted it to provide recommendations on:

(a) the education and training of health care practitioners in complementary and alternative medicine;
(b) coordinated research to increase knowledge about complementary and alternative medicine practices and products; and
(c) the provision to health care professionals of reliable and useful information about complementary and alternative medicine that can be made readily accessible and understandable to the general public;
[Executive Order 13147, 7 Mar 2000]

However, by the time the first members were chosen the following July, those relatively modest objectives were changed (without amending the Executive Order) to:

“…address the integration of CAM services into the medical care system, provide for adequate reimbursement for CAM services, appropriate licensing, training and education of all providers of CAM interventions, and methods to provide readily accessible and easy to read information describing the benefits and shortcomings of these interventions to health care providers and the general public.”
[HHS Secretary Donna Shalala, 13 Jul 2000]

Going for a “New Model of Medicine”

And by the time the last of the members and staff were chosen and the Commission began operations, its chairman was already planning on a more radical mission for it:

I don’t perceive our goal as limited to discussing research approaches to CAM practices; I see it far more expansive. I believe this commission has an opportunity to look at medicine and health care from a different perspective that can lead to a new model of medicine and even a new model of human biology.…We need a model of medicine that doesn’t just look at the disease or just treat the immediate problem. We need a model of medicine that looks at the total person, his/her body, mind and spirit, nutrition, structure and psychology. And I am convinced…that this commission can be the vehicle to help transport medicine in that new, and I believe, better direction.
[Commission Chairman James Gordon, Oct 2000]

Packing the Commission

This plan to supplant highly successful scientific, evidence-based medicine with something (anything) else is being carried out by twenty Commissioners (19 after one died early in 2002) who are between them almost totally devoid of scientific and research credentials. The vast majority are CAM practitioners, advocates, and entrepreneurs who stand to gain personally from the WHCCAMP’s report. Those who are not are there unabashedly as representatives of minority communities whose political support CAM supporters expect they need. There is no dissenting voice on the Commission to the Chairman’s “new and better direction” for medicine, and indeed there is almost unanimous, thinly disguised hostility to rationalism, science and modern medicine. (See sketches below)

Lifting Up CAM by the Bootstraps

One can see how they plan on developing and reconciling the expanded mission with their formal mission statement by reading their interim progress report. While paeans are paid throughout about the necessity for “sound scientific inquiry,” they tip their hand greatly when they state (with emphasis):

Testimony underscored the importance of increasing the knowledge and understanding of CAM among conventional health care practitioners to enhance and protect the public’s health. It was suggested that a basic or core CAM curriculum for conventional health care professionals be developed at the professional schools, in postgraduate training programs, and at continuing education programs. It also was suggested that these curricula in CAM fundamentals and principles should be developed in conjunction with CAM experts. The curricula should establish, to the extent possible, an evidence-based foundation for conventional health professionals to discuss CAM use with their patients, to make referrals to appropriately trained CAM professionals, and to develop an understanding of the interactions, either therapeutic or harmful, between conventional and CAM treatments to improve and safeguard their patients’ health. [Interim Progress Report]

Overthrowing Medicine’s Century-Old Commitment to Science

Not fully disclosed by this is that the “CAM fundamentals and principles” which will be taught are the very same ones that were overthrown by the Flexner Report in 1910 when medicine was steered onto its present scientific course. If that sounds far-fetched to the reader, it is completely real to Chairman Gordon, who has is very aware of what happened 90 years ago: “I believe that the report we are going to provide the president in two years has the potential to be, for medicine in the 21st century, as important as the Flexner report was to medicine in the 20th century.”

Threatening the Health of the Nation with a Report

Whether or not the Commissioners succeed completely in fulfilling their Chairman’s visionary mission, their report—finally sent to the President and Congress on 25 March 2002—should cause an uproar. The Gordon Report, with 109 recommendations for action, reveals that, as predicted, Gordon and the Commission are making the most of their opportunity. But they may have gone too far and exceeded their authority. (See our analysis of their original 87 draft recommendations; also a point-by-point dissection of the draft by Drs Timothy N. Gorski, MD, FACOG, and Stephen M. Barrett, MD, founder of Quackwatch, a web-based consumer advocacy organization, and similar critical analysis of the Gordon Report.)

Even so, a pro-quackery tract with the imprimatur of a White House Commission represents a serious national threat: many in the public will be bilked and injured, scarce federal and foundational funds will be wastefully diverted, and third-party reimbursers will be forced to pay for bogus or useless remedies. In addition, medical science itself will be forced needlessly to re-fight the battle it won almost a century ago against the vitalists, homeopaths, and mystics; it will consume much time, money, and brainpower that would be better spent pursuing legitimate ventures.

Responding to the Threat

Several people around the country have tried to raise the alarm about the Gordon Commission. Dr Gorski has repeatedly published astute observations on the Commission and its membership, most recently on Quackwatch, a web-based health-consumer information organization. Another consumer activist, Patrick Curry of Pittsburgh, has tried to alert the public as to Gordon’s sordid past. Dr Gorski also gave a devastating critique of the Commission and its fellow-travelers at the NIH before the Senate Special Committee on Aging. Despite such public-information efforts, Gordon and the Commission has still managed to fly under the radar in Washington. One ad hoc group of scientists lobbied the Surgeon General last year to have the Commission disbanded. But there was a counter-move by Congressional supporters of WHCCAMP who directly lobbied the President, urging his administration to “throw its full support behind the important work of this Commission.” Nothing came of the original letter.

Anticipating the release of the Gordon Report, the National Council Against Health Fraud issued a Position Paper. Our own response to the Gordon Report will be done soon.

Issuing a Magna Charta for CAM

With plenty of foreknowledge of the report’s contents, there will be a general mobilization on the CAM side to reach the press, media, and internet with consistent messages trumpeting the significance of the Commission’s work and report. (The Commission even hired a PR firm.) For months and years following, the document will no doubt be held out as CAM’s Magna Charta.The Commission met for the last time on Friday, 22 February 2002, and apparently adopted its reportıs recommendations.

The Commission (Gordon, actually) sent its report to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson on 7 March 2002 and formally went out of business. This final report took a while to wend its way through the federal executive bureaucracy and it was only sent to the President and Congress (and publicly released) on 25 March 2002. Meantime, the initial volley in the PR war had been fired by supporters in a Reuters story that attempted to characterize possible Bush administration opposition as merely partisan angst against a body appointed by Democrat Clinton.

A small amount of strife has been reported regarding release of the final report. (AP) Commissioner Fins, during the final markup meeting, complained that scientific medicine was not being given its due. Commissioner Chappell countered that the Commission should “be careful not to create a justification for Western medicine in this report.” It would appear that Chappell’s view, not Fins’s, prevailed in the final wording (making it more than ever the “Gordon Report”). Dr Fins and Dr Low Dog later wrote a letter to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson (appended to the final report) taking exception to the underplay of science.

If you are interested in helping with the effort to stave off the threat posed by the WHCCAMP, please contact Citizens for Science in Medicine.

Acknowledgement: The investigations and writings of E. Patrick Curry and Timothy N. Gorski, were invaluable in the preparation of some of the information found on this site.

Index to links mentioned above:

Is CAM Really So Popular?

Two telephone polls conducted by David M. Eisenberg, MD, in the 1990’s claimed alternative medicine to be wildly popular, prompting respectively the creation of the OAM (later NCCAM) at the NIH and the WHCCAMP.

Learn how these polls led US policy makers astray in “The Eisenberg Data: Flawed and Deceptive” by Timothy Gorski.

(Only those interested in knowing who is on the WHCCAMP and in knowing more about individual Commissioners need read any further. For fuller details on the anti-science beliefs, practices, background, and associations of any Commissioner, click on the link provided.)

Commission member sketches:

The chairman, Dr James S. Gordon, is a Harvard-trained psychiatrist who has had interest in violent psychotherapies (following the late authoritarian Indian guru, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh), rebirthing, alien abductions, and orgone energy. Through his Center for Mind-Body Medicine, he embraces all forms of mind-body mysticism and paranormal beliefs.

Dr George M. Bernier, Jr., is academic VP of the University of Texas’s medical school and has aggressively increased its CAM offerings under his leadership.

Dr David E. Bresler is a PhD psychologist with a special interest in acupuncture and who runs a guided imagery institute in California. He has made questionable claims to affiliation with UCLA’s medical school, plus has many provable associations with Jungian psychologists and other mystics, including Dr Gordon.

Thomas M. Chappell is Harvard-trained divinity student who owns Tom’s of Maine,a huge herb, vitamin, and supplement company.

Dr Effie Poy Yew Chow is a PhD educator, psychiatric nurse, acupuncturist, and QiGong “grand master.” She is renowned for her QiGong healing sessions via telephone.

George Thomas DeVries, III, is founder and CEO of the nation’s largest chiropractic and acupuncture HMO. Subsidiaries of the insurance company sell vitamins and supplements.

Dr William R. Fair was a urology surgeon, formerly with the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Cornell’s medical school, forced into retirement by colon cancer. He turned to herbs and mind-body techniques for treatment of his own cancer, was a board member of Dr Gordon’s Mind-Body Center, and ran a CAM center himself. He died from his cancer on 3 January 2002; despite his alleged renown, his death was only reported by the New York Times ten days later. Oddly, the WHCCAMP’s website does not report his death at all (as of 24 February 2002).

Dr Joseph J. Fins is a medical ethicist at Cornell’s medical school, who promotes the “pragmatic” use of CAM in end-of-life care.

Veronica Gutierrez is a “straight” (i.e., vitalistic) chiropractor who was appointed to the Commission after the chiropractic industry complained loudly that they weren’t represented.

LTC Wayne B. Jonas is a retired army physician and homeopath who took over the leadership of the OAM when the previous director was forced to resign because he favored scientific standards for research into CAM methods. Under LTC Jonas, the OAM became the NCCAM, with a budget that grew from $3 million to over $50 million..

Sr Charlotte R. Kerr is a nurse and acupuncturist. Despite being a Roman Catholic nun, she is a long-time associate with a Taoist institute in Baltimore that offers QiGong, homeopathy, supplements, shiatsu and Zero Balancing.

Linnea Signe Larson is a social worker and EMDR practitioner operating out of a CAM clinic in suburban Chicago. She also practices guided imagery and other mind-body techniques. She apparently has an interest in introducing CAM to physicians.

Dr Tieraona Low Dog is a physician, former midwife, and Native American (Lakota Sioux). She principally practices as a herbalist, with extensive contacts and associations with the supplement industry, and teaches/creates CME courses on botanical medicine.

Dr Dean Ornish is the latest in a string of physicians with best-selling diet books, in his case promoting a “proven” program to prevent heart disease. He has established two institutes for the study and promotion of his programs. His harshly ascetic programs are difficult to follow and hence independent validation of his claims of efficacy is lacking. His reputation notwithstanding, his actual scientific work is thin and he is attracted to unvalidated pseudoscience.

Dr Conchita M. Paz is a Hispanic physician with an interest in cultural issues as they affect the delivery of medicine.

Joseph E. Pizzorno, Jr., is a naturopath and midwife, who founded Bastyr, the first accredited naturopathic college in the US. He has been founder and/or president of numerous naturopathic organizations which seek state licensure for naturopaths.

Buford L. Rolin is a Poarch Creek Indian who is chairman of the National Indian Health Board. He has expressed interest in “traditional healing,” and is working on the Commission to extend CAM “services” to Native Americans.

Julia R. Scott is a nurse and activist in African American women’s health issues. She has candidly stated that she was appointed to “represent a constituency.”

Dr Xiao-Ming Tian is a Beijing-trained physician and acupuncturist who leads several international organizations promoting Traditional Chinese Medicine, which includes QiGong, acupressure, herbs and supplements as well as acupuncture. He has treated at least one prominent member of Congress.

Dr Donald W. Warren is a dentist with a practice in cranial reflex analysis (a form of applied kinesiology) and dental cranial osteopathy, with strong links to chiropractic, the supplement industry and homeopathy. He is also one of a small group of dentists who make unsubstantiated claims that dental amalgam fillings are toxic and must be removed.