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Legal and Ethical issues facing medical fraternity

The combination of ‘complementary and alternative medicine’ with conventional or so called Western medicine is throwing up legal and ethical challenges for the medical fraternity who practice integrative medicine.

Professor Michael Weir, from Bond University’s Faculty of Law, said it is an issue that will become increasingly important as the lines between traditional and alternative medicine become blurred.

“The boundaries between complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practices and conventional medicine are not absolute and specific CAM practices may, over time, become more widely accepted.

Professor Weir said examples of CAM practices interwoven with traditional medicine could include acupuncture being used along with conventional medical practices in pain relief.

“In other cases it might involve the use of herbs, vitamins and minerals in a patient’s treatment,” he said.

Professor Weir said CAM is practiced by health professionals who specialise in one or a number of modalities as exampled by chiropractors, osteopaths, naturopaths, western herbalists, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, homeopaths and massage therapists.

“The use of CAM by medical doctors raises important ethical and legal issues with which medical regulators have been forced to grapple,” he said.

“The standard of care required by medical doctors is in most jurisdictions based on whether the actions of the medical doctor comply with competent practice based on peer opinion.”

“Orthodox medicine perceives itself as being evidenced based medicine, based upon science, but CAM will often lack scientific evidence relying on anecdotal and traditional evidence.”

“As CAM becomes more established by scientific proof this dichotomy may become less relevant and in fact, in relation to the application of acupuncture and some applications of herbal medicine, its applications in some situations has scientific support.”

Professor Weir said the Australasian Integrative Medicine Association Inc was staging an international conference, titled ‘Building The Bridge’, in Surfers Paradise starting on October 18.

“Legal risk and compliance with professional and ethical obligations are issues that will need to be dealt with for the medical fraternity as the conventional and non-conventional treatments and therapies move closer,” he said.

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