Peter McKnight: Naturopath’s lawyer offers unusual defense
Peter McKnight: Naturopath’s lawyer offers unusual defense

Peter McKnight: Naturopath’s lawyer offers unusual defense

Opinion: Lawyer argues naturopaths not ‘bound by science’ so lack of evidence for his client’s treatments for autism shouldn’t prevent him from offering the service

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When your lawyer defends your job by attacking your profession, you know there’s a problem with your vocation.

The College of Naturopathic Physicians of British Columbia has been cracking down on its members in the past few years, and naturopath Jason Klop is the latest to find he’s in its crosshairs. But Klop and his lawyer are fighting back, and in a most unusual way.

At issue is Klop’s use of fecal microbiota transplants — yes, that means exactly what you think it means — to “treat” autism in children. Klop manufactured the pills and enemas in a lab in his nephews’ apartment because his nephews provide the, um, raw materials for Klop’s products.

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Once the College got wind of this, it demanded Klop cease manufacturing and selling the pills and enemas tout de suite. Klop is fighting back, however, and has asked a court to order the College to lift the ban.

According to the CBCKlop’s lawyer, Jason Gratl, questioned what it would take to act in a manner unbecoming a naturopath given that naturopathy “is so broad and open to interpretation.”

And he followed that shot by arguing that a lack of scientific evidence for Klop’s treatments shouldn’t prevent him from offering the service because naturopaths “are not bound by science,” as they sometimes rely on historical or anecdotal evidence.

This portrait of naturopathy as a freewheeling, unscientific, undisciplined discipline raised the hackles of the College, which countered that naturopathy isn’t an “anything goes” profession.

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Indeed, naturopathic organizations have long gone out of their way to emphasize their medical and scientific bona fides, with the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors’ website, for example, state that naturopathy “blends modern scientific knowledge with traditional and natural forms of medicine.”

But that statement confirms, rather than refutes, Gratl’s argument that naturopathy strays outside the bounds of science by sometimes anchoring its practices in historical and anecdotal evidence.

Indeed, the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors details numerous approaches offered by naturopathy, some with little scientific evidence to support them, including “botanical medicine, clinical nutrition, hydrotherapy, homeopathy, naturopathic manipulation and traditional Chinese medicine.” Gratl selected particularly on homeopathy, stating that it’s “certainly non-scientific at its core.”

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That’s true, but so too is naturopathy non-scientific at its core. Virtually every naturopathic organization, including the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors, identifies as the core principle of naturopathy the doctrine of “vis medicatrix naturae” — the healing power of nature.

Usually traced back to Hippocrates, the doctrine was used by the great physician to disabuse his fellow Greeks of the idea that their health and wellness depended on the whims of the gods — in other words, to replace a metaphysical-religious conception of medicine with a scientific one.

Unfortunately, the doctrine gave rise to the new metaphysical theory of vitalism, the theory that living matter is animated by a “vital force.” This mysterious, non-material force has been known in different cultures at different times by a variety of names including elan vital, chi or prana.

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Illness was conceived of as the result of an imbalance of vital forces, and the healer was therefore responsible for restoring balance and harmony. And so we saw an emphasis on the “four humours” — blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile — and the practice of bleeding people to restore balance.

Modern medicine and biology dispensed with vitalism long ago, however, in part because the germ theory of disease is offered a better explanation for illness and in part because scientific explanation by definition depends exclusively on appeal to material forces. Any non-material forces are the province of metaphysics or religion and therefore cannot occupy a place in the scientific canon.

And yet, naturopathic literature remains riddled with vitalist language. The Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors website for instance stresses that homeopathic remedies are “designed to stimulate the body’s ‘vital force,’” and that naturopaths use traditional Chinese medicine “to regulate and release chi in order to bring the body into balance.”

For all the naturopathic protestations to the contrary, this reliance on vital forces is no more science than is providing fecal microbiota transplants to treat autism. And if the former is OK with the College of Naturopathic Physicians of British Columbiathen why not the latter?

Peter McKnight‘s column appears weekly in the Sun. He can be reached at mcknight[email protected]

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