UPDATED: Sat May 6, 2000 04:55 AM UPDATED: Fri May 5, 2000 02:57 AM

Naturopathy college: Timing is everything

The Spectator
It is unwise -- perhaps even unhealthy -- to dump on just about any idea that would bring some renewed prosperity to Hamilton's long-suffering and demoralized downtown core. The city's centre needs all the help it can get so, short of a bordello, gambling casino or the world headquarters for the Church of the Universe, we feel compelled to be boosters -- build in it, invest in it and "they" will come. Development: Is this the greatest need?

Given this concern for the core, we're surprised to find ourselves in the unusual and uncomfortable position of not being solidly behind the initiative to locate a unique alternative medicine research institute in the vacant courthouse at 50 Main Street East. This idea, which, unkindly called Quack U by heartless media cynics ... oops ... that would be us, has all the earmarks of a political success story. Hamilton East MP Sheila Copps, always looking for ways to bolster her community and quite possibly also looking for a political legacy, is providing serious political weight and the federal health ministry is making the right "we're-interested-but-funding-is-still-an-issue" noises. Local political leaders are behind the idea, and there is some support from the faculty of health sciences at McMaster University. It would be premature to say the Institute of Comprehensive Medicine plan is a sure thing, but it's gaining momentum. Even Mike Harris's criticism of the proposal could, paradoxically, work in its favour: The thought of this being another stone in Harris's shoe might be enough to bring Allan Rock and Jean Chrétien on side.

Our reticence on this matter isn't so much about whether there is a legitimate need, or whether it should be in Hamilton. Notwithstanding some strongly-held (see opposite page) and valid concerns about the overall legitimacy of so-called naturopathic medicine, the inescapable fact is that it is a growing trend. From echinacea to acupuncture to naturopathy, homeopathy, shiatsu and chiropractic, more and more of us are involved in some form of alternative health care. Estimates say about 50 per cent of Canadians use alternative medicine products.

And yet, one of the critics' main charges about naturopathy is undeniable: Its value has not been scientifically demonstrated in the same way traditional medical techniques have been validated. So, why not establish an institute to study, judge and teach what is good and bad naturopathy; to separate the wheat from the chaff?

The question isn't really why not, it's why not now. Ontario's hospital system is under critical strain, and the situation in our region is as bad as anywhere. There aren't enough doctors or nurses. Cancer patients are being exported for treatment. Adequate long-term care remains a vision on the horizon. Palliative care services are tragically insufficient. The federal and provincial governments aren't talking constructively, or even with civility, about health care. With all due respect, is this the right time to invest 100 million public dollars in naturopathy research and teaching? Will the provincial government, only now seeming to recognize the urgency of reinvestment in health care, contribute politically, if not financially? Might the Harris government penalize the region for playing a role in the wars between Ottawa and Queen's Park?

Honestly, this idea has merit. It should become reality, and we hope it becomes reality here. But not at the expense of more urgent health-care reform and recovery, and not until the provincial government is on side.

-- Howard Elliott

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