Medical ethics are central to any type of healthcare – and this includes, of course, alternative medicine. The American Medical Association (AMA) have just published their newly revised code of ethics, AMA Principles of Medical Ethics.
It has long been my impression that, in alternative medicine, ethics receive no or far too little attention. Some alternative practitioners thrive to be able to call themselves ‘physicians’. Therefore, it seems interesting to ask whether they would also be able to comply with the ethical duties of a physician as outlined by the AMA.
The following 9 points are taken without change from the new AMA code; in brackets I have put my own, very brief comments pertaining to alternative practitioners. There is much more to be said about each of these points, of course, and I encourage my readers to do so in the comments section.
- A physician shall be dedicated to providing competent medical care, with compassion and respect for human dignity and rights. [Most alternative practitioners use unproven treatments; I doubt whether this can be called ‘competent medical care’.]
- A physician shall uphold the standards of professionalism, be honest in all professional interactions, and strive to report physicians deficient in character or competence, or engaging in fraud or deception, to appropriate entities. [Treating patients with unproven therapies in the absence of fully informed consent is arguably unprofessional, dishonest and deceptive. Crucially, alternative practitioners never object to even the worst excesses of quackery that occur in their realm.]
- A physician shall respect the law and also recognize a responsibility to seek changes in those requirements which are contrary to the best interests of the patient. [Treatment with unproven therapies can hardly be in the best interest of the patient.]
- A physician shall respect the rights of patients, colleagues, and other health professionals, and shall safeguard patient confidences and privacy within the constraints of the law. [The right of patients includes full informed consent which is, according to my impression, rare in alternative medicine.]
- A physician shall continue to study, apply, and advance scientific knowledge, maintain a commitment to medical education, make relevant information available to patients, colleagues, and the public, obtain consultation, and use the talents of other health professionals when indicated. [Alternative medicine is frequently out of line with or even opposed to medical knowledge.]
- A physician shall, in the provision of appropriate patient care, except in emergencies, be free to choose whom to serve, with whom to associate, and the environment in which to provide medical care.
- A physician shall recognize a responsibility to participate in activities contributing to the improvement of the community and the betterment of public health. [Some activities of some alternative practitioners are directly opposed to public health, for instance when they advise against immunising children.]
- A physician shall, while caring for a patient, regard responsibility to the patient as paramount. [Arguably this is not possible when using unproven therapies.]
- A physician shall support access to medical care for all people. [Some alternative practitioners advise their patients against accessing conventional healthcare.]
As I stated above, medical ethics are neglected in alternative medicine. The 9 points of the AMA together with my comments go some way towards explaining why this is so. If ethical principles were applied to alternative medicine, much of it would have to stop instantly.