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Ethics:  Alternative Medicine and Ethics

JAMA. 1998;280(18):1633. doi:10.1001/jama.280.18.1633.
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Several questions arise when considering complementary or alternative forms of medical therapy: Do they work? Should medical insurance pay for them? Should parents be permitted to have their children forgo generally accepted medical treatments in favor of alternative therapies, including prayer? At what point must retail pharmacists ethically decline to sell nonproven medications? These are the topics debated by various authors in this well-written book.

One word is scarcely used in this book—fraud—although the authors skirt around, imply, and try to defend against this accusation for the various alternative therapies. "Health fraud," according to the Guide to the AMA Historical Health Fraud and Alternative Medicine Collection , "occurs when claims for alternative therapies and unproven methods cause more harm than good, solicit money for bogus devices and remedies, or remove patients from viable medically acceptable therapies." In other words, do the therapies that these practitioners promote benefit patients and can any benefit be proven using scientific methods? These are the points around which the debates in this book, and about complementary and alternative medicine, revolve.

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