Homeopathy debate heats up as AVMA policy review nears

Homeopathy debate heats up as AVMA policy review nears

Lines are drawn as members of the veterinary community voice their opinions on complementary and alternative veterinary medicine.
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Feb 13, 2013

It looks like the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) accomplished what it set out to do—start a discussion. But it’s unclear whether the CVMA knew exactly how heated that discussion would become.

“We did what we thought was a good thing for the profession by bringing it up for discussion,” says CVMA President Christopher Gargamelli, DVM, refering to the resolution on the practice of homeopathy that the CVMA submitted to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) last fall. “Now it’s up to the AVMA to decide how to proceed.”

In early November 2012, the CVMA submitted Resolution 3, which proposed that the AVMA adopt a policy stating that homeopathy be considered an ineffective practice and its use discouraged. However, after going through a preliminary vote by the AVMA’s Executive Board and being handed over to the organization’s House of Delegates (HOD) for further discussion and vote, Resolution 3 is no longer considered a proposed resolution—it’s simply an item for discussion and consideration.

The timing is actually quite fitting, considering that the AVMA’s existing Guidelines for Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine were already up for a five-year review by the organization’s Council on Veterinary Service (CoVS) this year. And while it’s still up to the Executive Board to decide whether the language proposed in the resolution should be included in this review, its introduction alone has groups and individuals on both sides of the issue coming forward to voice their opinions.

The Evidence-Based Veterinary Medical Association (EBVMA) officially endorsed the resolution as proposed by the CVMA and created a white paper in support of it. Brennen McKenzie, DVM, president of the group, says one of the biggest concerns is that it’s misleading to offer an ineffective therapy to animal owners. “In the case of homeopathy, there is overwhelming evidence that it is incompatible with the basic principles of established science,” he says.

McKenzie admits that not all complementary and alternative therapies should be lumped together—and, likewise, not all should be condemned. However, he strongly stands by the fact that all therapies—both conventional and alternative—should be judged by the same standards.

“There needs to be a single standard and a single approach to evaluating the safety and efficacy of all veterinary therapies,” McKenzie says. “The approach that history has shown to be by far the most effective is that of science and evidence-based medicine.”

Interestingly enough, those in the pro-homeopathy camp don’t appear to disagree entirely with this statement. Richard Palmquist, DVM, president of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Foundation (AHVMF), says that the AHVMF’s sole purpose is to do research in an area where there’s not a lot of research. He points out that while there is actually a large body of scientific evidence supporting homeopathy as an effective practice, more research can—and should—be done.

“The point of this is that if we don’t look, we won’t know,” he says. “But we should actually do the research and stop yelling at one another. We get far more advancement in any field of medicine through dialogue than we get through debate.”

One of Palmquist’s greatest concerns with the language that was submitted in the resolution is that it dismisses an entire branch of veterinary medicine without sufficient evidence. And his colleague, Nancy Scanlan, DVM, CVA, MSFP, executive director of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA) and the AHVMF, echoes a similar sentiment.

“If you condemn practices which are widely used in the U.S. and worldwide, you are missing a chance to publish case studies and encourage more research to elucidate the mechanisms of these practices,” Scanlan says. While it’s clear that those in support of and opposed to the original resolution are fiercely standing their ground, at this time the final decision rests on the shoulders of the AVMA’s Executive Board. The board will now decide whether the issue should be referred to the CoVS and discussed during its review of the existing complementary and alternative veterinary medicine guidelines, scheduled to occur in early March. Any recommendations the council develops will go back to the board for consideration.

At that time, the board can accept or reject the recommendations, send them back to the council for further consideration or refer the issue to the HOD. If the latter occurs, the HOD will discuss the matter at its annual meeting in July, held immediately before the AVMA convention.

AVMA members can provide input on this issue by visiting the policy page at avma.org.