By Dana Ullman MPH
In order to understand the legal issues involved in homeopathic practice in the United States, it is necessary to recognize that medical laws are vague, sometimes confusing, and usually untested judicially. It is also important to know that medical laws are different in each state. Licensed health professionals should contact their own state board to get information on their own scope of practice.
Because homeopathic medicines are considered over-the- counter drugs, a health professional can definitely prescribe homeopathic medicines if they can legally prescribe these drugs, either on their own or under the supervision of a licensed person who can. However, because any individual can obtain over-the- counter drugs themselves, there is presently some confusion if it is actually illegal to recommend such drugs to others.
It is completely legal for medical doctors to practice homeopathy anywhere in the U.S. At present, three states (Connecticut, Arizona, and Nevada) have homeopathic medical boards which license medical doctors who specialize in homeopathy. The primary reason that homeopathic physicians created these homeopathic medical boards was so that their practice would be judged by their own peers, not by conventional doctors.
Homeopathy is also commonly practiced by other licensed practitioners, such as dentists, podiatrists, veterinarians, naturopaths, chiropractors, acupuncturists, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, and numerous others. Physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, and others who must normally work under the supervision of a physician must also do so to prescribe homeopathic medicines. Acupuncturists and chiropractors should consult their own boards for their legal rights to use homeopathic medicines. Some boards say that practitioners can use “natural medicines,” which some people theorize can include homeopathic remedies.
Naturopaths who graduate from either of the four recognized and accredited naturopathic medical schools can practice homeopathy. Naturopaths can practice in Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Alaska, Utah, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Washington, D.C., and a couple other states where it seems that the attorney general has permitted such practice.
There are now numerous training programs and correspondence courses in homeopathic medicine which are offered to laypeople. These courses offer certification, though certification does not necessary grant license to practice. Instead, they (the good ones) offer a sound training in homeopathy and allow graduates to take a test presently organized by the Council for Homeopathic Certification (this certification also does not grant any license to practice homeopathy, but it is an effort to inform consumers who has a reasonable amount knowledge of homeopathy). Such certification may be helpful in enabling practitioners to work with MDs who want homeopathic care for their patients; for further information, write to: CHC, PO Box 157, Corte Madera, CA. 94976.
There are only a couple of cases in which I am personally familiar in which a layperson who prescribed homeopathic medicine was arrested for practicing medicine without a license. In 1976 I was one such person. I won an important settlement in 1977 in the Oakland Municipal Court in which the court allowed my practice under two stipulations:
1) that I do not diagnose or treat disease and that I refer to medical doctors for the diagnosis and treatment of disease (practicing classical homeopathy does not require a specific diagnosis of disease in order to find the correct homeopathic medicine);
2) that I make contracts with my patients that clearly define my role as a non-medical homeopathic practitioner and the patient’s role in seeking my care.
This court case did not set a judicial precedent, though other courts can choose to follow in their lead.
When a layperson works together with a licensed professional, it is generally assumed by courts that the professional takes legal responsibility for patient care. One lawyer theorized that if a lay homeopath follows the stipulations from my courtcase, a court may rule in their favor. Although this is certainly possible, it is risky to depend on one court’s interpretation of this non-binding court settlement.
It is also recommended that all lay practitioners provide professional disclosure statements that clearly inform their patients of their training and their non-licensed status.
Obtaining professional legal advice for the state in which you practice is highly recommended.
For further information about legal issues in homeopathy:
In order to help establish better legal and political support for homeopathy, we highly recommend supporting homeopathic organizations, particularly:
The National Center for Homeopathy, www.HomeopathyCenter.org
North American Society of Homeopaths: www.Homeopathy.org
The Foundation for Homeopathic Education and Research, 812 Camelia St, Berkeley, CA. 94710