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Here’s what naturopaths and chiropractors shouldn’t be advising you about

B.C. provincial health officer concerned after child treated with rabid dog saliva
A naturopath’s claim that she gave a child rabid dog saliva for his behavioural problems has sparked concerns from B.C.’s provincial health officer. Grace Ke reports.

Chiropractors and naturopaths shouldn’t be telling you not to vaccinate your children. Or advocating unscientific therapies, like CEASE therapy, that was theoretically supposed to treat autism.

So say their professional associations.

Over the last few weeks, a handful of the colleges that regulate chiropractors and naturopaths have been issuing statements and reminding their members that they shouldn’t be advising their clients on subjects like vaccination.

This comes after stories, many of them from B.C., about naturopaths or chiropractors doing things like treating a child with a homeopathic remedy derived from the saliva of a rabid dog or posting anti-vaccination statements on social media.

READ MORE: B.C. naturopaths under investigation for offering treatment to ‘eliminate autism’

But what these health professionals can discuss varies from province to province. And, in provinces east of Ontario, naturopaths aren’t even regulated by a professional college.

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“The priority of the College of Chiropractors of British Columbia is the health and safety of the public,” reads a notice from that association, posted May 11, 2018.

“All registrants are reminded that they can only provide services that are within the Scope of Practice of Chiropractors.”

In another statement, the College notes that immunization is outside their scope of practice. Alberta and Saskatchewan take a similar stance.

READ MORE: Halifax chiropractor under investigation by regulator over online posts questioning vaccination

In B.C., naturopaths are permitted to discuss vaccinations with their clients, though they must advise them of the benefits of vaccinations and tell them that naturopathic treatment is not a substitute. They also aren’t allowed to offer “alternatives” like a “flu shot alternative” or counsel against immunization unless they have a sound medical reason for doing so.

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In Ontario, naturopaths are not permitted to discuss vaccination at all with their clients and must refer them to another health professional for such questions, according to the College of Naturopaths of Ontario.

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READ MORE: She treated a boy with rabid dog saliva. B.C. naturopaths say she made them look bad

They also can’t include information in their advertisements that isn’t “true, accurate, verifiable, realistic and professionally appropriate” though the College did not specifically define what would be professionally appropriate.

“The College does not have definition of what is ‘professionally appropriate’ as doing so would replace the judgement of a Member with that of the College,” they wrote in a statement.

Bernie Garrett, a professor of nursing at the University of British Columbia who researches science-based medicine, agrees that chiropractors and naturopaths should not be providing advice on vaccination.

“That is really outside the remit of their sphere of activity,” he said.

“I’m comfortable with them advising people to see their physician.”

While he believes that people should be able to choose to see a naturopath or chiropractor if they wish, any advice these practitioners give on how to treat a serious illness “should be based on scientific evidence.”

Consequences

If a practitioner breaks the rules, they may be subject to disciplinary action, according to the various colleges. This can range from merely advising or educating the practitioner to fines or revoking their licence to practise.

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Garrett doesn’t put much faith in this system though. He believes that regulatory bodies – including those for physicians and nurses – too often protect the interests of their members rather than the public.

He thinks the public would be better-protected if there was an entirely separate regulatory system for alternative health practitioners – that didn’t let naturopaths call themselves doctors, for example, as they currently can in B.C. He believes this would reduce confusion about the kinds of advice they can and can’t provide.

“If you regulate practitioners and allow them to be called physicians or doctors and regulate them at the same status as medical practitioners, then the public gets very confused,” he said.

“A doctor is a doctor as far as they’re concerned.”

“What we actually need is a regulatory system that separates these practitioners out so that in the minds of the public, they understand exactly what they’re getting if they see a practitioner who is called a doctor, that they know what that involves.”