Submission to Ministerial Committee on Complementary and Alternative Health

NZORD's submission to the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Complementary and Alternative Health - June 2003

NZORD presented an oral submission to the committee at a hearing in Wellington on 28 June 2003. As suggested by our draft principles circulated for consultation, we concentrated on the following points:

  • Recent concerns with the safety of dietary supplements suggest that stronger regulation of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is desirable.
  • NZORD is aware of a number of instances where supplements have been promoted as offering treatment for various rare diseases, for which no effective treatment exists. Such claims are of particular concern when the lack of evidence of benefit, the vulnerability of these families, and the costs of these supplements, are considered.
  • Other instances of concern have involved CAM enthusiasts actively discouraging people from following professional medical advice, with serious or fatal consequences.
  • Setting enforceable ethical standards by which CAM practitioners should operate is one possible way of improving this situation.
  • Better information, such as the proposed Ministry of Health website publishing evidence about CAM medicine, also seems highly desirable.
  • The benefits that are or may be available through CAM medicine, would be better available to the community as a whole if there was more detailed research into the risks and benefits of CAM medicine and practice.

In elaborating on these principle we suggested there should be government support for complementary approaches to health that promote physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing, fitness, good self-image, cultural wellbeing and healthy lifestyles. These approaches are seen to work well in tandem with expert medical advice to improve the health of the community.

However we cautioned that approaches to health that are promoted as an alternative to expert medical advice, are often characterised by a lack of evidence as to their safety or effectiveness. There also seems an unsatisfactory lack of enforceable ethical standards among practitioners of alternative medicine.

In both complementary and alternative medicine there seems little effective restraint on promotion of services or products, in contrast with strict guidelines limiting advertising of mainstream medical services or medicines. This leads to some preying on the vulnerable for financial gain.

To provide a better balance we suggested the committee include the following points in its recommendations:

  • The principle of non-promotion without evidence to demonstrate benefit.
  • Enforceable codes of ethics among all practitioner groups.
  • That churches be expected to set standards of ethical conduct for their ministers in relation to healing.
  • That no practitioner should be permitted to discourage use of mainstream medical advice.
  • That restraints on advertising should be balanced across all sectors.

Further information of the work of the Ministerial Advisory Committee is available at