Should alternative medicines be regulated?

Earlier this week I was listening to radio national and a group of doctors and scientists were campaigning for universities to stop teaching alternative medicines. Their argument was that universities teaching it gives these unproven and unverifiable practices legitimacy they don’t deserve. (Like Keynesian economics. Jokes……..) Readers of this blog should know that I am an atheist skeptic who can be very hostile to ideas I consider stupid. Most alternative medicines and religion come under this category. I am also a pretty hard line libertarian.

From the mid twentieth century on government has created an alphabet of regulation and departments to protect us the consumer from poor quality goods and services. In some cases these departments have done good in many others they have imposed significant cost onto both the taxpayer and the consumer. They have also protected monopolies but creating artificial barriers to entry for new competitors. In fact some experts have argued that the creation of new miracle drugs stopped about the same time as the establishment of the Food and Drug Administration in the United States. It is quite likely that modern medicine ran out of a low hanging fruit to pick around this time, but there is no doubt that the FDA has made it enormously expensive to develop new drugs.

The creation of regulators for consumer protection is a rejection of the idea that both the marketplace and the court system will provide an incentive for producers to make products that work. Regulation is a vote of confidence in the expert. In the case of alternative treatments sometimes they can provide effective treatment in spite of supporting evidence that such a treatment should work. This is nothing new and not limited to the alternative lifestyle types. Sister Kenny promoted physical therapy as a treatment for polio, her understanding of what polio was complete quackery. However, her treatments were effective in a time before vaccination. The medical establishment then as they do now tried to prevent her from offering this treatment. This was an example of the marketplace being ahead of medical science.

Like many government policies regulation of medical services has unintended consequences. The victims of an unregulated shocky service are loud and politically powerful. However, the people who are priced out of medical services due the increased in price caused by complying with regulation has no voice. Nor are those who die because medication were never developed.

Chiropractors are an excellent example, many people who use these services would love nothing more to see a pain specialist and Osteopath. Chances are those people can’t afford those services. Osteopaths and the broader medical profession resist Chiropractors operating in their area of specialty, they regularly attempt to get the government to regulate against alternative treatments and publicly attack alternative treatments as quackery. No doubt the medical profession would deny this about their financial interest and says something like, the government should fund people to see an Osteopath. Aghhh yes our old friend rent seeking.

The broader point is in the examples of chiropractors is to regulate them assumes people are stupid. That people would continue to see people throw away money on services that fail to deliver results. I’m sure as medical science develops betters ways of treating backpain the chiropractic profession will be dramatically reduced, however until then these professionals are delivery a service people believe work and that people are willing to regularly use.

Ultimately, in an age where people can use the legal system to sue business that fail to deliver services and were information by other consumers are readily available on the internet. Do we really want the Government whom response to vested interests telling us as consumers what we can and cannot buy. I don’t.