Ontario naturopaths are pushing hard to become a self-regulating profession, with expanded rights to prescribe drugs and order tests. Thankfully, the Ontario Medical Association is pushing back.

This is not a turf war — there are more than enough patients out there. Nor is the resistance from the medical community founded on a fear of loss of professional status. This is about patient safety and, more fundamentally, the role of science in the Canadian health care system.

Naturopathic medicine, despite its claims to the contrary, is not evidence-based. Given this reality, provincial health ministries need to carefully consider the long-term implications — including the legal and ethical challenges — of formally legitimizing the pseudo-scientific.

If naturopathic medicine were governed by science, as practitioners increasingly claim, they would not provide: detoxification services, homeopathic remedies, most herbal remedies, and cosmetic facial acupuncture. But these types of services are the core of naturopathic medicine.

If you don’t believe me, I invite you to Google “detoxification and naturopath.” You will get a list of clinics offering things like colon cleanses (useless, potentially harmful, and a bit disgusting), ionic foot baths that create an “energy field similar to that found in the human body” (so scientifically ridiculous that it borders on parody), and infrared sauna therapy (ditto).

 

Lucky for naturopaths they are not bound by science. I do not mean that the laws of physics do not apply to the things that happen within the walls of naturopathic clinics. I am fairly certain an apple will still fall, the Earth still orbits the Sun, and the application of the scientific method would still nudge us closer to the truth about the therapies they deploy.

Rather, I mean that the profession is not wedded to a scientific world view. It is a practice built on a philosophy based in the “healing power of nature” or, to quote theCanadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, the “principle of healing through the co-operative power of nature” and the “individual's inherent self-healing mechanisms.” This kind of rhetoric may sound inviting, but it is scientifically meaningless.