The Stillbirth of the Amendment to the Medical Practitioners Act of British Columbia

The Stillbirth of the Amendment to the Medical Practitioners Act of British Columbia

In the treatment of the sick person, the physician must be free to use a new diagnostic and therapeutic measure if, in his or her judgment, it offers hope of saving life, re-establishing health or alleviating suffering..

The state of health (and/or sickness) care in British Columbia made news around the nation this year. BC doctors went on strike. They want higher wages for time in the operating room; they want more vacations; they don’t want to practice in rural communities; they want more recognition from both government and consumers; they don’t want to work so hard with so little job satisfaction. They want more respect!

The problem is in the system itself, which is systematically sick! It needs radical surgery. Much of the discontent of members of the British Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons could be alleviated with changes to the Medical Act.

The responsibility of caring for the ailing around the province should be shared with a logical variety in health practitioners: naturopathic doctors, chiropractors, homeopaths. All of whom are a valid part of primary health and sickness care. The chronically ill know that very well. But British Columbians, as well as those in other provinces, are held hostage by provincial medical acts which dictate the kind of medical practice permitted by licensed practitioners–and thus allowed to consumers. Responsible physicians are barred from practicing the kind of medicine they find effective and are threatened with loss of license if they break the rules. Patients are denied medical insurance for therapies of their choice so they pay twice: once for insurance coverage that includes only doctor-prescribed drugs and surgery–and again for an “alternative” when the orthodocs methods fail to heal.

In protest, Citizens Supporting Complementary Medicine drew up the Medical Practitioners Act Amendment 2000 and laid it at the feet of a sympathetic member of the BC legislature, Steve Orcherton. Orcherton introduced Private Member’s Bill M212 on July 6, stating that the Bill “effectively allows doctors to practice complementary medicine without fear of retribution and harassment from the College of Physicians and Surgeons.”

Orcherton exhorted colleagues in the House, “The colleges of physicians and surgeons across Canada have a long history of interfering with the public’s right to choose medical doctors who incorporate–environmental medicine, acupuncture, homeopathy, botanicals, orthomolecular medicine, vitamins–and chelation therapy [in their practices]. This Bill allows medical practitioners to use their own judgment in the interests of the patient. It protects medical practitioners who practice complementary medicine from harassment by the College of Physician and Surgeons. Alberta and Ontario have adopted similar legislation. In 1995 a study showed that 56 per cent of general practitioners believe in alternative medicine and the ideas and methods extending therefrom.

“Honorable Speaker, interest groups in British Columbia, notably the Citizens Supporting Complementary Medicine, both the Vancouver Island group and the Lower Mainland group, support this initiative, along with the Association of Complementary Physicians of British Columbia, who’ve done a substantial amount of research on this topic and proposed many of the amendments.”

Medical College Control

Bill M212 passed first reading July 6 and was placed on the “orders of the day” for a second reading at the next sitting of the House.

Good timing. Everyone knew what would happen. The legislature closed for the summer recess. The Bill was dead. It would not be tabled in the fall as “unfinished business.”

“That is what happens to private member’s bills,” said Jim Jaarsma at Orcherton’s constituency office. “Traditionally, they don’t go anywhere.”

The provincial colleges of physicians and surgeons in all provinces are the licensing bodies. They give physicians permission to practice according to a set of rules established by the “old boys” network: doctors and drug companies protecting their power over the people. Any doctor guilty of “unprofessional” conduct is threatened with having his or her license revoked. This unprofessionalism is not determined by patient complaints but by whether or not the doctor in question is abiding by the commandments of the Church of Modern Medicine:

  • You shall not concede the reality of chemical sensitivities
  • You shall not acknowledge the Gulf War syndrome as fact
  • You shall uphold vaccination of all kinds
  • You shall not prescribe vitamin therapy
  • You shall firmly insist on chemotherapy for cancer treatment
  • You shall discredit nutritional therapy
  • You shall mock herbal remedies as “old wives tales”
  • You shall continue to make profitable alliances with drug companies
  • You shall uphold the policies of the College of Physicians and Surgeons as your “bread and butter”
  • You shall stand against the enemies of the Church, for “divided we fall”

Use of complementary therapies is a “broad domain” the amendment states, and encompasses “all health systems, modalities and practices and their accompanying theories and beliefs other than those intrinsic to the dominant health system.”
In British Columbia, as in other provinces, there is a long history of regulatory bodies abusing their power.

  • patient files have been removed by the College without patient consent
  • doctors appointed by the College to carry out the investigation have no knowledge or training in the modality being investigated
  • the atmosphere of the investigative process is one of animosity, hostility and intimidation
  • none of these review proceedings is open to public scrutiny

“If the College revokes the license of a physician using complementary medicine, not only will this patient be deprived of the therapy, but the type of therapy offered may no longer be available from any other physician in British Columbia.”

That, of course, is the intent of the Medical Act. The BC College of Physicians and Surgeons wants to make sure that therapies that challenge their orthodoxy are stamped out, black-listed and unobtainable by anyone within its power of influence.

The action plan is simple-and you are part of it:

“All members of the legislative assembly in the province will have to be well-informed on this issue. We are asking each of you to write to your MLA and where possible to meet with him/her, obtaining assurance that she will support this amendment when it is voted on in the legislature.”

Bill M212 will never get to the floor of the BC legislature or any other legislature unless you write. Make it personal. Make it a demand. The name and constituency address of your MLA can be obtained by phoning 1-800-663-7867.

And send a copy of your letter to Citizens Supporting Complementary Medicine, PO Box 27098, 1395 Marine Drive, West Vancouver, BC V7T 1H0. Or fax (604) 438-0853. When copies of letters are received they will be faxed to every MLA in BC.

Mike Farnsworth, the Minister of Health should hear from you. So should Premier Ujjal Dosanjh. Letters should be sent to Victoria, BC V8V 1X4.

Deluge them with phone calls, letters and faxes voicing your insistence on health care reform and that this amendment to the BC Medical Health Act is heard.

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