Chiropractic alliance sparks controversy
Degree program being planned by York University
By ROBIN HARVEY
Toronto Star - LIFE WRITEROctober 22, 1999
York University psychology professor Jim Alcock says he is appalled by many of the unscientific statements made by some chiropractors in Canada.
One chiropractic pamphlet, which says parents should take their babies for treatment soon after birth, is simply dangerous, Alcock says.
"I find it extremely upsetting," Alcock says. "It is dangerous because of the implication that chiropractors are experts in pediatric care and they are not..."
The pamphlet says newborns must come and have their spines examined because small misalignments of spinal vertebrae "are a serious threat to your newborn's health. Complications ... may be serious, resulting in respiratory depression and in some cases SIDS, (sudden infant death syndrome).
Alcock, along with other York faculty members, including astronomy professor Michael De Robertis, are upset at a proposal to link the university with the, Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College. The group is spearheading a campaign to stop the university from giving degrees in chiropractic.
The chiropractic business is booming for certain. Health ministry figures provided to The Star show in Ontario from 1998 to 1999, $102 million in provincial health insurance funds went to chiropractic care.
But the dissenting York University professors say the government money is being misused because besides treating infants and children - opposed by the Canadian Pediatric Society - many chiropractors make many other false and unscientific claims.
The belief that spinal manipulation can increase overall health and cure illness is largely unproven, they say.
Many treatments and devices used by practising chiropractors - such as hair analysis, live blood microscopy and ear candling - are "highly unorthodox to say the least" and go well beyond their defined scope of practice, De Robertis says.
The professors don't want to give such chiropractors the stamp of authority that university affiliation would bring.
However, Jean Moss, president of the Memorial Chiropractic College, where the vast majority of Canadian chiropractors get their training, says no such unorthodox methods are taught at her school.
She points out that hundreds of thousands of Canadians safely receive chiropractic treatment each year, 96 per cent of them for back and neck conditions. Moss says at the college chiropractors are taught to deal with I conditions of the spine and neuromusculoskeletal system.
One 1997 study in the Journal of The Canadian Chiropractic Association found chiropractors treated 86.3 of their patients for primary conditions of a neuromusculoskeletal nature.
However, a study published in 1997 in the Journal Of The Canadian Chiropractic Association, which examined chiropractors' philosophies and their scope of practice, found only only 18.6 per cent restricted their practice to spinal and neuromusculoskeletal problems and "emphasized the scientific validation of chiropractic concepts and methods."
A total of 22 per cent adhered to chiropractic philosophy that links treating the spine to a host of medical conditions, including problems with internal organs and other diseases and ailments, the survey found.
By law, the practice of chiropractic is "the assessment of conditions related to the spine, nervous system and joints, and the diagnosis, prevention and treatment, primarily by adjustment of dysfunctions or disorders arising from the structures of functions of the spine and the effects of those dysfunctions on the nervous system; and dysfunctions or disorders arising from the structures or functions of the joints."
Jo-Ann Willson, spokesperson for the College of Chiropractors of Ontario, the chiropractors' regulatory body, says aviation with York is a good opportunity "to protect the public" from unorthodox practitioners.
Though the regulatory college has ongoing peer and quality review of chiropractors' practices, it operates largely on complaints from 'patients, she says.
If a chiropractor is disciplined the decisions are made public in the college's annual report, a spokesperson says. In 1996 and 1997, a total of three chiropractors were disciplined for professional misconduct.
York spokesperson Sine MacKinnon says the university has investigated the concerns expressed by the dissenting professors about the state of current chiropractic practice.
But the concerns about the behaviour of practising chiropractors or their pamphlets have nothing to do with the proposal to develop a degree program at York in co-operation with the CMCC, she says.
The link with the chiropractic college would build on and expand York's expertise in health sciences and would allow considerable research so modem-day chiropractic care would be even more scientific and evidence-based, she says.
Nick Rogers, York's associate vice-president of research, who chaired the committee that approved the link with the CMCC in principle, stresses the process is still ongoing.
The university will have a role in establishing curriculum for the chiropractic degree, he says. The move would be good for chiropractic care because it would help legitimize the work.
"As I read it, it is an attempt to actually clean up the profession, Rogers says. A university affiliation "would help get rid of the rather dubious people and bring it (chiropractic) more in line with clinical practices."
A forum is being held at the end of October to address any concerns about the affiliation, he says. A final decision is expected within a few months, but York's senate has already voted 57-13 to explore affiliation.
The alliance is tempting to York because it would include $25 million from the chiropractic college to be spent on lecture halls and other facilities.
However, a petition opposing the move has been signed by two U.S. Nobel laureates and even Bill Nye (Ihe Science Guy), host of a popular science program for kids.
Moss says the proposed link with York is "very exciting."
It would allow for better interaction and exchange of ideas between different health disciplines. It would also mean more research into the benefits of chiropractic care and what types of treatments and approaches work best.
Nan Brooks, 37, has been seeing a chiropractor for eight years. "I used to have extreme migraine, three days each week, and I had head pain every day," she says. "Now after chiropractic, I get one migraine maybe every four to six weeks."
Brooks says her chiropractor was careful to explain the possible risk of spinal neck manipulation, which can include, in rare cases, stroke. "But it has been worth it. My life is so much better," she says.
The Canadian Pediatric Society has thrown its weight behind the dissenting professors.
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