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Why Naturopaths Should Not Be Licensed

Kimball C. Atwood IV, M.D.

Naturopaths are licensed as independent practitioners in eleven states (Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington) and the District of Columbia, and can legally practice in a few others. Naturopaths who have attended on-campus schools are pressing for licensure in the remaining states.

Approximately 30 naturopaths are lobbying for licensure in Massachusetts. They portray themselves as "primary care physicians," consider themselves superior to other naturopaths whose "degrees" were obtained from nonaccredited correspondence schools, and assert that licensure is needed to protect the public from unqualified practitioners. However, the existing naturopathic licensing agencies have done little or nothing to protect the public from naturopathy's widespread quackery.

Since treatment by incompetent practitioners can cause great damage, health professions should be held to very high standards. To be considered a health profession, an occupational group should be able to demonstrate an objective, scientific, and ethical basis. Naturopathy fails to meet this standard. I believe that it is dangerous and that no amount of regulation can control the danger. Moreover, as noted by William T. Jarvis, Ph.D., past-president of the National Council Against Health Fraud:

The difference between more and less educated naturopaths is . . . . like comparing more and less educated witch doctors. It could actually be argued that less schooled naturopaths are safer because they may have a smaller bag of tricks and, because they don't consider themselves "primary health physicians," they are more apt to refer patients to M.D.'s for additional care.

The Massachusetts Medical Society strongly opposes naturopathic licensure in Massachusetts. Our reasons include:

Naturopathic services are not covered by Medicare or most insurance policies. Expansion of naturopathic licensing will make naturopaths appear more legitimate and could help them gain passage of laws forcing insurance companies to cover their services.

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Dr. Atwood, who practices in Newton, Massachusetts, is board certified in anesthesiology and internal medicine. He is also his state medical society's representative on the Massachusetts Special Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medical Practitioners, an ad hoc group whose purpose is to inform state legislators about naturopathy. This article is modified from a lengthy report that Dr. Atwood submitted to the Commission.

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This article was revised on December 30, 2001.