Legal issues in homeopathy

FAIM

The Foundation for the Advancedment of Innovative Medicine keeps track of states that have regulations that protect patient access to alternative therapies.

The argument that practicing homeopathy is not practicing medicine is faulty especially if the state has had a homeopathic medical licensing law in the past, usually around the early 1900s. Without education or practice standards the only grounds of prosecution is fraud or abuse. Minnesota’s health department compiled a favorable report on alternative and complementary medicine which stated: 

“Creative alternatives should be sought wherever possible. Regulation should interfere as little as possible. If regulation is necessary, the least restrictive regulation should be used … It should not restrict if there is no risk of personal safety.”

The only professions that are allowed to diagnose and treat illness in all states are medical doctors (MDs) and osteopathic doctors (DOs). Several states license naturopathic physicians (NDs) to diagnose and treat illness (AK, AZ, CT, HI, ME, MT, NH, OR, UT, VT, WA). Other health-care providers such as nurse practitioners, physician assistants, dentists, veterinarians, chiropractors, licensed acupuncturists, nurse midwives, and podiatrists may be allowed to use homeopathy within the scope of their licenses, depending on the laws of the state in which they reside.

According to the 1993 Job Analysis of Chiropractic, 37% of more than 50,000 USA chiropractors practice some form of homeopathy. That calculates to over 18,500 practitioners. Naturopaths also practice homeopathy, but there are fewer than 1,500 practicing nationwide, and there are only about 500 homeopaths (many are fringe MDs). Apparently chiropractors are the most prevalent licensed homeopathic practitioners.

Three states have homeopathic licensing laws: Arizona (1982), Connecticut (1892), and Nevada (1983) -- MDs and DOs practicing homeopathy in AZ or NV, and MDs practicing in CT must be licensed by the state homeopathic licensing board.

There are many training programs and courses in homeopathy in both the U.S. and abroad; however, no diploma or certificate from any school or program is recognized as a license to practice homeopathy in the U.S. Certification of competency to practice homeopathy is available to MDs and DOs through the American Board of Homeotherapeutics (DHt); to NDs through the Homeopathic Academy of Naturopathic Physicians (DHANP); and to all professionals through the Council for Homeopathic Certification (CCH).

The best protection against legal action is in how practitioners represent themselves. They should not call themselves doctors (even with a Ph.D.) and should not purport to be able to cure any condition. Strengthening the vitality of the person is fine to say and many people will say they strengthen the immune system as this is a more marketable stance. But in general, medical terms should be avoided. All clients should be required to be under the care of a medical doctor or other primary care provider.

Disclosures

Disclosure statements have not been proven to fend off legal attacks but will help the patient to understand the risk that they are taking on. Even better is a statement that positively offers the educational background and assets that the practitioner brings to the fair trade situation. The statements should be complete, honest, and without exaggeration.

Health care bills were passed in June of 2001 for Florida that authorize provision of and access to complementary or alternative health care treatments and require patients to be provided with certain information for those treatments. They also revised Florida's Patient's Bill of Rights & Responsibilities to include right to access any mode of treatment patient or patient's health care practitioner believes is in the patient's best interests. This upset the American Dental Association.

It is one of the requirements of the alternative practitioner to disclose the patient's bill of rights in Minnesota as of July 1st, 2001 because of their new Complementary and Alternative Health Care Freedom of Access bill Gov. Jesse Ventura signed into law.

If you are in Missouri and would like to work towards a similar health care bill, contact Heather Reynolds. The backing organization, Missouri Citizens Coalition for Freedom in Health Care, is mostly concerned about vaccination laws.

Fatal diseases

Know your limits to what you can say when dealing with a possible fatal disease. In 1996, oncologist Vincent Speckhart, MD, was ordered to pay the widow of deceased patient Robert Rizzi $235,715. Rizzi's widow charged that Speckhart led her husband to believe that homeopathy was enough to cure him of his Hodgkins' disease after Rizzi refused further chemotherapy because of side effects. Mrs. Rizzi had asked for $2.3 million. Dr. Speckhart was on indefinite probation since 4/29/93 in Virginia for using a Voll machine without accepted therapeutic purpose.

In another cancer case, William Cowden, M.D. used homeopathic injectables in Texas and under agreement received two years probation in January of 1995 as long as he agreed to retraining.

FDA

For an exposition of the FDA’s current view of the legal standing of homeopathy on the federal level, see "Homeopathy: real medicine or empty promises," FDA Consumer, 12/96.

NASH

As of 1999, two members of the North American Society of Homeopaths (NASH), one of the most respected groups that currently has about 60 RSHom (NA) recognized members, were being investigated by their states. NASH has as one of its objectives to work toward the legal recognition of homeopathy and has very high standards for the certification.

It was thought that the primary risk for an unlicensed practitioner was through the client. But the recent cases made it clear that the state can pursue lawsuits against an unlicensed homeopath with little or no provocation.

Since then, NASH has negotiated medical malpractice insurance through several carriers and is available to NASH certified homeopaths. Malpractice insurance is one way conventional doctors protect themselves from financial ruin and has not been available to the homeopath until now. For more specific information concerning that contact Steve Waldstein

Dana Ullman

One of the most notable cases of a lay homeopath doing a good job and the courts getting upset was Dana Ullman's incident in 1976. Dana is perhaps the person who has done the most for homeopathy since his court case in that he pursues the evangelism of homeopathy through the NCH and his mail order company, Homeopathic Educational Resources. He prescribed homeopathic medicine and was arrested for practicing medicine without a license. But he won an important settlement in 1977 in the Oakland Municipal Court in which the court allowed his practice under two stipulations:

  1. that he did not diagnose or treat disease and that he refers to medical doctors for the diagnosis and treatment of disease;
  2. that he makes contracts with his patients that clearly define his role as a non-medical homeopathic practitioner and the patient's role in seeking his care.

Monica Miller

For more legal issues concerning alternative health (and very often homeopathy), see Monica Miller's Health Lobby web site. She also is in charge of Government Relations for the Foundation for the Advancement of Innovative Medicine.

Tim Bolen

Tim is a consumer health advocate that is known to be the Quackbusters' number one nemesis. He runs a website called CrackpotWatch where he publishes a newsletter.

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