Ontario regulates tradition
From Tuesday’s Globe and Mail
A new law regulating traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture will protect Ontarians from the dangers of the current free-for-all that is plaguing the ancient practice, many long-time practitioners say.
But others contend the legislation — passed by Queen’s Park and put into effect Dec. 20 — will puncture a vibrant and ballooning alternative medical therapy industry that has worked hard to earn the trust of Canadians in recent decades.
“It is a very complex issue,” said Cedric Cheung, a doctor of Chinese medicine in London and president of the Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Association of Canada. “But it is an issue that is being addressed for the protection and the safety of the general Canadian.”
Royal assent for the controversial Bill 50 launched the process of creating a self-regulating professional body that will be known as the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of Ontario — similar to those that govern doctors, nurses, chiropractors and physiotherapists.
The college will be responsible for setting standards, licensing practitioners, establishing disciplinary procedures for malpractice or misconduct and setting up a complaints committee that will look at grievances.
“Previously, there was no restriction on who could practise traditional Chinese medicine in Ontario, or who could call themselves a practitioner. So it comes down to public protection,” said A. G. Klei, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. Dr. Cheung, who has been practising the technique of inserting and manipulating needles into meridian points on the body for nearly 40 years, says many of the services being offered in Ontario in recent years have become very lax, too often resulting in serious injuries.
“There was a patient being treated by a practitioner with a reused disposable needle. They don’t throw it away, they keep it and reuse it. Then there are cases of lung punctures with the needle. [In another case, a] needle wasn’t inserted properly in the leg and it caused swelling because it was inserted in an artery.”
Because the practice was unregulated, there was no way for injured parties to file a complaint, and no one has successfully sued for malpractice.
Although the government expects it will be two to three years until the college is established, Dr. Cheung is glad to see that the process, for which he has been lobbying for more than 20 years, is finally under way. It not only protects Ontarians who are increasingly turning to alternative forms of therapy, but it also “is an official recognition of Chinese medicine, the whole regimen,” he says.
Ontario joins British Columbia as the only provinces to regulate TCM and acupuncture. Two other provinces, Alberta and Quebec, regulate only acupuncture. About 48 U.S. states, along with England and Thailand, also have some type of regulation of Chinese medicine similar to those put into effect by Bill 50.
The college will be responsible for establishing different classes of Chinese medicine practitioners to avoid having practitioners wage a turf war with chiropractors and physiotherapists for exclusive rights to practise acupuncture. The classes would differentiate between medical doctors of traditional Chinese medicine, with advanced education, and practitioners with a general education in traditional medicine.
Kin Wong, who has been running his family’s South China Herbs Market in Toronto for the past 16 years, says the legislation will severely harm the way in which he can help patients because he cannot claim to be a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, diagnose illnesses, or prescribe remedies.
Mr. Wong, 37, learned the trade from his father, who was taught by his grandfather.
Canadians are aware that many of the herbs used in Chinese medicine aren’t scientifically tested, he says — people choose to go into shops such as his.
“I’m more than willing to put a sign up in my window that says these medicines have not been tested and that people are venturing into uncharted territory,” Mr. Wong says.
He is worried that the red tape that will come with the college will scare many traditional Chinese medicine practitioners out of their profession and will mark the end of the industry “in a few years.
Paul Jang, a Toronto acupuncturist who is a strong supporter of the legislation, agrees that the new rules will take a toll on the industry. Of the roughly 3,000 practitioners across Ontario, Mr. Jang estimates only 800 will be qualified enough to become licensed under new regulations because many of those currently practising do it part-time and don’t have more than a year of specialized training.
“The people who don’t like Bill 50 are the ones who are scared they won’t be able to practise any more. The ones with the right qualifications have nothing to worry about,” he said through a translator in his clinic.