“I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of covenant between Me and the earth.”
I am a science person. I love the scientific method, its reliability, its procedures, its time-honored reliability. I cannot and will not claim to be impartial on the subject of MD’s versus naturopathy; right now I candidly confess a strong bias in favor of MD’s. I trust physicians for several reasons. First, they undergo extremely rigorous training to learn their craft. This winnows out the unreliable candidates and allows only the most competent doctors to treat patients, a fact that I find comforting. Second, modern medicine is based in careful scientific experimentation, following standard processes to ensure that each medical procedure is reliable. For example, the AMA discusses research in genetics and molecular medicine as well as in infectious diseases. Far from simply the weight of tradition to carry trust, the medical procedures practiced today have undergone rigorous testing. Third, the medicines that doctors prescribe undergo a similar process to the medical procedures as discussed above. There is a standard four-phase process which all medicines undergo before they reach the public; most new drugs do not reach the market, having failed to pass earlier phase benchmarks. The rigorous scientifically-based nature of modern medicine inspires my confidence despite the fact that science is flawed.
I do not claim that all medicine is perfect or even that all the procedures are consistently followed. If that were the case we would not have humans in science, but machines. Humans bow to pressures, and researchers are humans just like the rest of us. No perfection, but at least modern science and medicine make an attempt to maintain high, rigorous standards.
My initial reaction when a person says “naturopathic doctor” is to cringe. Naturopathy conjures up muddled images of snake-oil sellers, quacks, and unregulated and untested herbal remedies the FDA has never heard of. Yet this is only my initial reaction; every profession has its screwballs, and no logic requires that all naturopathic practicioners be screwballs. In defense of naturopathy, consider the following statement (citation):
Naturopathic physicians […] function within an integrated framework, for example referring patients to an appropriate medical specialist such as an oncologist or a surgeon. Naturopathic therapies can be employed within that context to complement the treatments used by conventionally trained medical doctors. The result is a team-care approach that recognizes the needs of the patient to receive the best overall treatment most appropriate to his or her specific medical condition.
This combined normal doctor/naturopathic doctor approach allows the strengths of each discipline to come to the fore and would help guarantee the correct, appropriate diagnoses and treatments for each patient. According to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, licensed ND’s (doctors of naturopathy) are “general practitioners trained as specialists in natural medicine.” To become an ND, a student “attends a four-year graduate level naturopathic medical school and is educated in all of the same basic sciences as an M.D. but also studies holistic and nontoxic approaches to therapy with a strong emphasis on disease prevention and optimizing wellness.” It is indesputable that “optimizing wellness” is an admirable goal; prevention of a condition rather than treating it when it occurs cannot be faulted. This statement also suggests that a licensed ND undergoes similar training to an MD, which in turn implies a level of reliability on par with that of a medical doctor. As for the concerns regarding procedures, the AANP Code of Ethics states that
The Naturopathic Physician shall strive to participate in professional activities to advance the standards of care, body of knowledge and public awareness of naturopathic medicine.
This says that practicioners of naturopathy must strive to meet the highest ethical standards in medical treatment. Meeting those standards means giving the patient not the quackery treatment I suspect, but the finest medical attention avaliable to that ND. Then, moments later in the Research Position Paper, comes another binding, reassuring statement:
naturopathic medicine, as a modern, ethical health care profession, systematically examines its theory, practice and outcomes through a wide variety of available scientific methods for purposes of verification, discovery and improvement.
All these statements combined mean that, in sum, a naturopathic doctor has the potential to be as reliable, worthy of trust, and scientific as a standard MD. As with choosing a regular doctor, the patient must personally confirm the ND’s qualifications to avoid being hoodwinked or, worse, maltreatment of a serious condition.
– KF –
[Revised 1:15 PM, 2/11/05]