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White House Announces Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy

May 2, 2000

President Clinton on March 7 signed an executive order establishing a White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy. The order came just weeks after Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) held a press conference on the Navarro family's battle with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and introduced legislation to ensure patients' access to the medical treatments--including alternative treatments--of their choice. (See Who Decides: The Parents or the FDA? )

Was the new commission established to pacify feisty citizens--such as Thomas Navarro's parents--who are demanding immediate access to alternative medicine? Is it a stalling tactic to postpone doing anything about patients' demands for access to treatments not approved by the FDA?

A stalling technique is commonly used when politicians don't want to handle "hot" issues. In effect, that is what happened with Medicare. In 1997, the White House and Congress couldn't agree on the best way to reform Medicare so they created a commission. The Medicare commission spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayers' dollars but couldn't reach a consensus.

At the same time, Congress and the White House approved a law that restricted seniors' freedom to pay privately for health services covered by Medicare. This was a historic restriction on seniors' freedom. The public, however, was told that the Medicare Commission would reform the program.

Don't Take the Bait

Americans who have been pushing for greater access to alternative medicine might see the establishment of the new White House commission as a positive sign. But don't take the bait. The commission will most likely do what others have done in the past: restrict--not improve--Americans' access to alternative medicine. For example, the new commission will study and make recommendations about the education and training of alternative practitioners. A similar procedure was used to wipe out homeopathic medical schools at the turn of the twentieth century.

In a 1995 Cato Policy Analysis titled The Medical Monopoly: Protecting Consumers or Limiting Competition, Sue Blevins explained how at the turn of the last century, the Flexner Report significantly affected alternative providers: "Within 10 years after the Flexner report, approximately 130 laws were passed regulating at least 14 health-related occupations. Some non-traditional specialties were virtually wiped out. Take homeopathy, for example. By the end of the 19th century, an estimated 15 percent of physicians practiced homeopathy, the use of natural remedies to stimulate the body's natural healing responses. There were 22 homeopathic medical schools and over 100 homeopathic hospitals in the United States. . .[However,] the new rating system for medical schools was influential in eliminating homeopathic colleges nationwide."

She continued, "It is commonly thought that homeopathy disappeared because of its poor quality of education. But history shows that physicians graduating from two of the last homeopathic colleges--Hahnemann Medical College and New York Homeopathic College--passed [state medical licensing] examinations at a rate comparable to physicians from schools that were maintained."

Why are today's alternative health care practitioners desperately trying to get organized medicine to validate their treatments? Because in many instances that is the only way they can legally practice and the only way patients can legally use their services.

Focus on Freedom

Americans have a better option. They can demand the freedom to use the treatments--approved or unapproved--of their choice without validation from organized medicine or government. Obviously, nonpolitical, scientific research is very important and can help validate--or invalidate--various medical treatments. But just because a treatment hasn't been approved by organized medicine or government doesn't mean that informed citizens shouldn't be allowed to use it. We don't limit Americans' religious freedom to government-approved denominations. We shouldn't limit their health freedom to government-approved medicine either.

The Cato Policy Analysis titled The Medical Monopoly: Protecting Consumers or Limiting Competition? can be viewed at You can order a copy from the Cato Institute at (202) 842-0200.

This article was originally published in the March/April 2000 issue of Health Freedom Watch, the bimonthly watchdog report published by the Institute for Health Freedom.

We don't limit Americans' religious freedom to government- approved denominations. We shouldn't limit their health freedom to government- approved medicine either.