A bill filed in the N.C. General Assembly late last month would require all complementary and alternative health-care practitioners in the state to be licensed. This is unnecessary, impractical and contrary to the wishes of many Western North Carolina residents.
Another bill, filed April 5, follows other states’ lead in protecting people’s fundamental right to choose their own health care. The fate of these bills could significantly affect your access to now-widely-available treatment modalities that pose no risk of harm to the public.
To date, an estimated 4,000 state residents have signed a petition supporting health freedom. As many as 3.3 million North Carolina residents receive a substantial volume of health-care services from complementary and alternative practitioners. This follows a nationwide trend: In 1997, Americans made substantially more visits to complementary and alternative health-care providers than to primary-care physicians, according to a study by Dr. David Eisenberg of Harvard Medical School.
North Carolina’s broad definition of medicine requires anyone practicing the healing arts to have a license unless they’re practicing under an exemption or “safe harbor.” But the state does not provide such an exemption for the many widely practiced natural, complementary and alternative healing arts.
Last April, the House Select Committee on Complementary and Alternative Medicine held a hearing at The North Carolina Arboretum that considered ways to facilitate consumer access to complementary and alternative health care. The committee recommended creating another study committee in 2007 to consider and report on a number of issues, including “the need to safeguard public health and safety by requiring mandatory licensure of all persons who engage in the practice of complementary and alternative health-care services to ensure minimum standards of competence, a minimum level of education and experience.”
But the resulting Naturopathic Physician Licensing Act (HB 969 and SB 1080) is overly broad in its current form, requiring across-the-board licensing and attempting to define “natural medicine”—a blend of art and science, of left- and right-brain knowledge and thinking, that defies conventional medical boundaries.
Complementary and alternative health-care services exist within a network of people with widely varying backgrounds, skills and cultural identities. Referrals are prevalent and have been part of the practice of the healing arts throughout the ages. Within this community-specific “culture,” people naturally get to know who is helpful in dealing with different types of issues. This organic system is closer to the concept of community elders than to the structure of conventional medicine today. If the complementary and alternative health-care services were allowed to grow and thrive in a clearly legal environment, communication about them would also improve.
Meanwhile, another bill, the Consumer Health Freedom Act (HB 1358), would provide a safe harbor for people practicing healing arts within strictly specified parameters. Similar to House Bill 1303 from the 2005 legislative session, it takes a common-sense approach used by other states (California, Idaho, Louisiana, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Rhode Island) whose laws have produced no adverse consequences. Some 30 additional states are either developing similar laws, clarifying existing ones, or otherwise taking steps to defend the right to health freedom. At this writing, Rep. Susan Fisher is among the 13 sponsors of the Consumer Health Freedom Act, and other WNC representatives have said they plan to sign on as well.
This bill’s rationale is that everyone has the right to choose his/her own healing path; that people want more health-care options; and that complementary and alternative health care has a history of safety and can be appropriate for acute, preventive and chronic care.
But the broader public debate dates back to the 16th century, when the Herbalist’s Charter was enacted under Henry VIII. When the American colonies declared their independence in July 1776, they each adopted the laws of England as the common law of the state, including the Herbalist’s Charter. Never repealed, this act remains part of our common law, offering protection to alternative practitioners “at all Time from henceforth.” Nonetheless, as recently as 2003, a bill proposed in the N.C. Senate would have made it a felony to “practice medicine without a license”; it did not pass, perhaps because of the public outcry.
Among the most biodiverse regions of the world, the mountains of North Carolina are full of natural healing energies. Both healers and those seeking healing are drawn here in various ways. But if the licensing requirement becomes law, many complementary and alternative practitioners will leave the state, resulting in the loss of a considerable community of services and the related revenue generated here in WNC. Cultural and indigenous healers could also be at risk.
Rep. Fisher and Sens. Martin Nesbitt and Joe Sam Queen are among the WNC legislators co-sponsoring the Naturopathic Physician Licensing Act. I urge you to contact your state representative and senator to express concern about overly broad licensing requirements and voice support for the Consumer Health Freedom Act. Please also consider contributing time and/or money to defend this basic right, and encourage your friends and family to get involved as well. Together, we can help ensure health freedom in North Carolina.
To find out who your state representatives are, go to www.ncga.state.nc.us, select “Homework Assistance” and then “Who Represents Me?” You can also view the full text of the bills on the Web site. To learn more about the issues or to get involved, attend the April 12 meeting (see below) or go to www.citizensforhealthcarefreedom.org.
[Asheville-based classical homeopath Margaret Bennett is a member of Citizens for Healthcare Freedom. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Rally round the medicine
Citizens for Healthcare Freedom is holding a public meeting Thursday, April 12, to discuss the rationale and answer questions. The meeting will be held in the Greenlife Grocery Community Room (90 Merrimon Ave.), starting at 7 p.m.