Traditional Chinese medicine is still a divisive issue in B.C.

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      East and West haven’t truly met with regard to traditional Chinese medicine.

      A recent announcement that Kwantlen Polytechnic University will host B.C.’s first public school of TCM has drawn criticism from the association representing physicians in the province.

      But according to Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk, the measure is about giving everyone a choice.

      “We want to give British Columbians the choice of how they manage their health care in terms of the kinds of programs that they feel are appropriate,” Virk told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “If one association has a slightly different view, I’m not going to be alarmed by that.”

      The establishment of a TCM school in a public postsecondary institution was promised by Premier Christy Clark in last year’s throne speech. That promise was reiterated in the B.C. Liberal platform during the May 2013 election campaign.

      “It’s about promises made and it’s about promises kept,” said Virk, MLA for Surrey-Tynehead.

      For the association previously known as the B.C. Medical Association and recently renamed Doctors of B.C., things aren’t quite as simple as that.

      According to Dr. Lloyd Oppel, chair of the organization’s council on health promotion, the government didn’t consider the “perspective of the scientific medical community” regarding TCM. He asserted that most studies have “failed to find evidence of effec­tiveness” for this ancient system of diagnosing and curing illnesses.

      “If the courses being offered are not based on good evidence or if there’s good evidence that treatments being offered are ineffec­tive or harmful, then, you know, offering things that aren’t real or safe in a university context may give people the wrong impression that they’re getting genuine health treatment,” Oppel told the Straight in a phone interview. “And so, if—and I’m saying if—if universities offer courses like that, then there’s a risk the public may be harmed.”

      He cited as an example the fact that although many Chinese herbal remedies have been around for hundreds of years, some in recent times have been tested and found to be poisonous, such as those made from plants of the genus Aristolochia. In 2001, Health Canada ordered the removal from the market of products containing the herb, an ingredient used in weight-loss and other preparations.

      Oppel also referred to acupuncture, a form of TCM cure, as “random pokes in the skin”.

      In addition to herbal remedies and acupuncture, TCM treatments also include energy exercises and massages.

      Acupuncturist Poppi Sabhaney countered that TCM is “as valid as western medicine”.

      “They both have their place,” Sabhaney told the Straight in a phone interview. “If you have a compounded fracture sticking out of your leg, I don’t want to see you. But I will help you after you recover because I have things that will help you recover quicker, where western medicine says: ‘Sit and rest and wait.’ ”

      Sabhaney is a member of the Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture, the organization that resulted from the merger last year of the Qualified Acupuncturists and TCM Association, and the Traditional Chinese Medicine Association of British Columbia. He was the president of the TCMABC.

      Sabhaney also disputed claims that there’s no proof of the effectiveness of TCM.

      “Just because it’s not in English doesn’t mean it’s not around,” he said. “There are hundreds, if not thousands, of studies in Mandarin, Cantonese, Taiwanese. Even, I know in Hindi, I’ve seen acupuncture studies showing, you know, that it does work.”

      According to Sabhaney, western-medicine doctors oppose TCM because they’re afraid of losing “power”.

      “At one time, a doctor was god. You didn’t argue with them. You didn’t say anything. You said, ‘Whatever you say.’ You just take it as gospel,” Sabhaney said.

      TCM is provincially regulated. It’s recognized by the government as meeting risk standards and providing health benefits to the public. At the national level, Health Canada regulates TCM products, which numbered more than 2,000 as of April 2013.

      At present, TCM programs in B.C. are offered in private schools.

      More steps will follow Advanced Education Minister Virk’s announcement on January 24 about Kwantlen serving as the home of a public school. A program advisory committee will be set up to guide the development of the new school. Burnaby North MLA Richard Lee, who was appointed in December 2013 as parliamentary secretary for traditional Chinese medicine, will sit on the committee.

      Virk, indicating that the school may open sometime in 2015, said: “British Columbians support traditional health care. They support complementary health care, and we’ve heard that loud and clear.”




      Feb 5, 2014 at 11:27pm

      Placebo effect in action, unless you get an infection from all those needles.

      Disappointed in Chilliwack

      Feb 6, 2014 at 3:46am

      I suffer from severe rheumatism as a result of demonic possession, but the standard of training for exorcists in BC is terrible. I hope the Ministry of Advanced Education is looking into it.


      Feb 6, 2014 at 9:21am

      This foreign mess is all stuff. Anti-phlogistenic unguent, blue pill, and Ward's drop suffice to avoid megrims, marthambles and the falling damps. If one is let an ounce or two of blood, followed by low diet and a comfortable slime-draught, that should rectify the humours amazingly!

      a doc who is not one of the old boys

      Feb 6, 2014 at 11:14am

      I have experienced Dr Lloyd Oppel as one of "the old boys" who constantly fights what he has referred to as snake oil medicine. He devalues what he is unfamiliar with. He is ill informed, and appears closed to growth and change in the emerging holistic medicine of 2014. As such, he appears to be stuck in his rigid belief system, and his identity tied tightly to fear of change.
      We need people like Dr Oppel, as paradoxically, he stokes the fires of controversy and provides a glaring example of fear of change.
      In contrast, more and more open minded docs are now willing to go beyond traditional western medicine, and welcome and integrate forms of complementary and alternative medicine. They often do so quietly, so as not become subject to discipline from the old boys clubs. And to my delight, Increasing numbers of docs no longer fear embracing change, and are leading the charge into holism.
      As the old guard leaves by attrition, the old boys club will begin to lose it's power, but change takes time!

      A person who's integrated it

      Feb 6, 2014 at 1:06pm

      In the article, once again, the comment is that Doctors are afraid of losing "power". What's with all the alternative gurus thinking we are all into power? We just want to see proof. I've seen a lot of the studies mentioned that, you know, shows acupuncture works. The studies are not well constructed and don't have good controls so that, while it looks like it works, the studies are not reproducible. There is no standardization because Acupuncture has as many approaches and theories are there are practitioners. It's hard to make a good study, but the practitioners are not looking for ways of developing good studies with good "control". Western Medicine Works, there is no question, Acupuncture works in grey areas where the proof is not easy to find. My biggest concern is that the practitioners themselves would rather say that Western doctors are afraid of losing power and personally attacking the western doc, than showing us the studies that prove acupuncture works. Or developing parameters that can produce reproducible studies


      Feb 6, 2014 at 1:20pm

      Old boys club is right...I wonder how many of the above commenters have tried TCM?

      "...or if there’s good evidence that treatments being offered are ineffec­tive or harmful, then, you know, offering things that aren’t real or safe in a university context may give people the wrong impression that they’re getting genuine health treatment.”

      I would also like to ask Dr Oppel about all those synthetic drugs with commercials on tv with their ridiculous never ending lists of harmful side effects. Are they considered to be "genuine treatments"?!

      Give me TCM to help cure me over western medicine and their cooperate pharmaceutical based attempts to eliviate my symptoms ANY day


      Feb 6, 2014 at 1:36pm

      @A person who's integrated it -

      I agree with you, but I think the biggest problem of all, is that there lacks real funding for substantial proof, and evidence from studies. There is so much money pumped into "Western Health" because of the number of pharmaceutical companies.

      Why would they want to invest in studies that could promote cures, and alleviate syptoms, from common herbs you and I could grow easily in our backyard? I believe there is much more at play here than what is simply on the surface.


      Feb 6, 2014 at 1:41pm

      All alternative and complementary medicine should be subject to the same rigorous double blind placebo controlled tests as any other accepted regimen.

      The action of the BC government is nothing more than pandering to special interest groups for votes.


      Feb 6, 2014 at 1:59pm

      The Medical Association is disgusting. Aside from centuries of practise in China, Chinese medicine been flourishing here for Decades now, and a godsend for many many people, myself included. The school here is one of the most respected anywhere. And the Association was appallingly out of integrity in engineering the take-down of the revolutionary and inspiring Tzu Chi Institute that integrated western & chinese medicine along with psychology and structural disciplines such as physiothery - which was connected hello to VGH.. This is all about power and money - nothing whatsoever to do with true healing. Pathetic in this day and age already.


      Feb 6, 2014 at 2:36pm


      "...the biggest problem of all, is that there lacks real funding for substantial proof..."

      In fact, the US government has been funding studies into the efficacy of alt-med since 1991, through the "National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)". Their budget is around $120m per year.

      What have they found, after 20 years and $2 billion? Basically, nothing word talking about. Alt med is at best one big placebo.