Massachusetts Medical Society Testifies in Opposition to Licensing of Naturopaths

Contact: Richard P. Gulla
rgulla@mms.org 
781-434-7101
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Waltham/Boston -- May 11 -- Saying that passage of this legislation would be a “huge setback for the public health of a state that enjoys a reputation for having the best medical care in the world,” The Massachusetts Medical Society today testified before the Joint Committee on Public Health in opposition to Senate 1313, a bill calling for the licensing of naturopathic doctors in the Commonwealth. Read the full MMS testimony.

The Massachusetts Medical Society, the statewide professional association of medical doctors, offered strong testimony against making naturopathic doctors licensed health care providers in the state.

Pointing out that training of naturopaths “includes no experience with sick, hospitalized patients, no real internship or residency training,” the Medical Society said that naturopathic practices are a “large assortment of erroneous and potentially dangerous claims mixed with a sprinkling of non-controversial dietary and lifestyle advice.” It offered a long list of such examples, including: claims that hydrogen peroxide dissolved in a bath can provide vital oxygen through the skin of a patient suffering from an acute asthma attack; that the goldenseal plant can cure a strep throat, thus making penicillin unnecessary; that strokes in progress can be reversed by cold compresses applied over the carotid arteries; that vitamin C is an effective treatment for approximately 100 conditions, including glaucoma, male infertility, and AIDS.  

The Society cited two major reasons why the legislature should deny licensure: first, that licensure is interpreted by the public as an endorsement of the field. “Unsuspecting parents who lack sophistication in science or medicine,” noted the Society, “couldn’t be faulted for having their sick children treated by a practitioner who thinks that a hydrogen peroxide bath is effective for asthma, if that practitioner is licensed by the state.”

The second reason cited by the Medical Society is that a self-regulating profession determines its own standards of practice. “The bill before you today,” the Society said, “provides for a nine-member board, of which five would be naturopaths. Such a board would find that all the practices described above are within the appropriate ‘standards of care’ for naturopaths.”

Acknowledging that “Massachusetts is in the forefront of the patient safety movement, home to the Massachusetts Coalition for the Prevention of Medical Errors, the Betsy Lehman Center, the Patient Care Assessment Program at the Board of Registration in Medicine and some of the best medical care in the world,” the Society strongly urged the Committee on Public Health not to endorse naturopathy since it is an “ongoing system of medical errors.”

“There simply cannot be one standard for one field and a different one for another. There must be a single standard, and in health care it must be based on rational decision-making informed by science and clinical research,” the Society concluded.

The Massachusetts Medical Society, with some 18,300 physicians and student members, is dedicated to educating and advocating for the patients and physicians of Massachusetts. The Society publishes The New England Journal of Medicine, one of the world’s leading medical journals; the Journal Watch family of professional newsletters covering 11 specialties; and AIDS Clinical Care. The Society is also a leader in continuing medical education for health care professionals throughout Massachusetts. Founded in 1781, MMS is the oldest continuously operating medical society in the country. For more information, visit http://www.massmed.org.