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The White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy (WHCCAMP) was appointed during the closing days of the Clinton Administration to make recommendations "assuring that public policy maximizes the benefits to Americans of complementary and alternative medicine." The Commission is expected to issue its final report this month. Its draft report indicates that it will recommend expanded federal spending and other policy initiatives that would foster irrational methods and encouraging treatments that have already been proven ineffective or have no established therapeutic value. The report is based on "bogus science" and may lead to thousands of Americans trying untested, unproven, and possibly dangerous, alternative therapies.
"Complementary and alternative medicine" ("CAM") is an imprecise marketing term that is inherently misleading. "Alternative" methods are loosely described as practices outside of mainstream health care. They lack evidence of safety and effectiveness and are generally not covered by insurance plans. "Complementary medicine" is loosely described as a synthesis of standard and alternative methods that uses the best of both. In truth, there are no "alternatives" to objective evidence of effectiveness and safety.
NCAHF has examined the background and credentials of WHCCAMP's members. Most are philosophically aligned with the so-called "CAM" movement, and many have an economic interest in this area. Few knowledgeable critics are among them. Several members have backgrounds meriting scrutiny, especially its Chairman, Dr. James S. Gordon, who has been associated with a cult that used bioterrorism and defending one of the Oklahoma City participants, Terry Nichols. Others, including Dr. Wayne Jonas, are associated with homeopathy, a discredited 18th century prescientific theory whose proponents suggest that a substance diluted to infinitesimal proportions, where no molecules of the substance are left, can transfer healing powers to water. Multiple clinical trials and simple common sense show this cannot and does not occur.
The Commission's 86-paragraph draft report recommends across-the-board "integration" of "complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)" into government health agencies and the nation's medical, medical education, and insurance systems. The Commission falsely assumes that CAM research is cost-effective and that CAM methods have been sufficiently developed to integrate into every aspect of our educational and health-care delivery systems. Its report does not identify a single "CAM" practice that should be considered improper. Quackwatch provides a point-by-point analysis
The Commission advocates spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to promote unscientific beliefs that would include treating cancer with herbal teas and coffee enemas; diagnosing ailments throughout the body by pushing down on the patient's arm; and manipulating supernatural forces to treat serious illnesses. The draft report implies that anything marketed as "CAM" should be taught in medical schools, included in health plans, and widely incorporated into government policies.
Such recommendations are a perversion of the trust placed in Presidential Commissions, an affront to medical science, and an assault on consumer protection. Without science-based safeguards, any scam artist with a far-fetched idea can open for business and bilk the public. The proper place for unproven and untested methods is in laboratories and clinical research studies, not in large-scale unscientific experiments upon the American people. "CAM" methods that are plausible should be tested with well-designed clinical trials. The rest should be discarded. No method should be marketed, promulgated, or taught without proof that it is safe and effective.
NCAHF believes that this Commission has failed in its mission. For a Commission of professionals with medical and other advanced degrees, its activities apparently lacked scholarship and rigor. Instead of seizing an opportunity to critically examine "CAM" theories and practices and making a rational and reasoned report to the President, the Commission blindly advocates policies that are illogical and economically senseless. The value of any possible therapies that may have emerged from careful review and testing has been lost in a tidal wave of enthusiasm for anything merely bearing the label of "CAM."
NCAHF strongly suggests that the Commission's recommendations be rejected and repudiated by President Bush and members of Congress. Widespread adoption of unproven, disproven, and irrational methods would cost the American public billions of dollars and thousands of human lives. The WHCCAMP recommendations for implementation are premature by any standard, since scientific data do not exist to support them. Medical ethics dictate that before any medical practices are adopted or spread, studies done with scientific methodology, and adequate protections for humans must demonstrate their validity. Doing less would be a danger to the public and would remove safeguards that have evolved over centuries in the practice of rational and caring medicine.
The National Council Against Health Fraud is a consumer advocacy group founded more than twenty years ago to promote reliable health information.
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