【明報專訊】NATUROPATHY is generally considered to be a form of alternative medicine which makes no use of drugs and surgery. As reported in this newspaper, a reader some time earlier informed us that he had received treatment from a naturopath who called himself a "doctor", but to no effect. We have carried out an investigation into the matter and found that many naturopathic clinics have naturopaths who give themselves the title of "doctor" on their business cards. We emailed to the Department of Health copies and photographs of some of these business cards and the promotional messages displayed at the clinics' doors. In its reply, the Department of Health says there are reasons to believe that some people may have violated ordinances like the Medical Registration Ordinance and the Undesirable Medical Advertisements Ordinance.
There are very strict regulations for the registration of medical practitioners and nursing staff in Hong Kong, and the established practice is that only those with proper Western medical training can be called doctors. However, while there are also strict regulations governing dentists, nurses, physiotherapists, and opticians, there are no regulations governing naturopaths.
It must be pointed out that those who practise alternative medicine are not necessarily quacks or charlatans, and should not be prejudiced against by the public. But since naturopaths are not governed by any regulations, it has often been found that they differ widely in professional ethics and practices. Now some naturopaths have gone so far as to call themselves "doctors". Has the law been violated? Have patients been misled or deceived by some naturopaths, as a result of which they have failed to get timely treatment or even received wrong or harmful treatment? These are questions that the authorities should not overlook. To protect patients, the government must crack down on quacks and charlatans by strictly enforcing the relevant regulations.
Of course the strict enforcement of the law does not mean putting an end to naturopathy in Hong Kong. In recent years, many people have accused the traditional Western medical industry of hegemony - of trying to establish a medical monopoly by outlawing, with the help of rules and regulations, all other schools of medicine. At the same time, proponents of alternative medicine have been vocal. The regulation of Chinese medicine is a highly illuminating example.
Chinese medicine was once the subject of much prejudice in Hong Kong, and was even branded as a kind of pseudoscience. There were also unscrupulous as well as conscientious practitioners. However, as a result of the Chinese medical industry's sustained campaign, a registration and regulation mechanism for the industry has been established, and now Chinese medicine constitutes an alternative to traditional Western medicine.
Naturopathy may follow in the footsteps of Chinese medicine. In Canada and in parts of the United States there are registration mechanisms for naturopaths, so that those qualified may become licensed "doctors of naturopathy". The government should take the initiative and, in consultation with the naturopathic industry, help it establish an authoritative trade association. A regulatory mechanism and professional guidelines should also be developed so as to weed out quacks and charlatans from the industry, and prevent them from doing any more harm.