Alternative Medicine

Chatfield, Kate orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-8109-0535 (2016) Alternative Medicine. In: Encyclopedia of Global Bioethics. Springer, pp. 98-110. ISBN 978-3-319-09482-3

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The term “alternative medicine” (AM) is broadly used in the Western world to refer to a group of therapeutic systems and interventions that exist largely outside of the established, conventional healthcare system. In some countries, primarily developing nations, as many as 80 % are said to rely on some form of indigenous AM for their primary healthcare where it is more commonly termed, “traditional medicine.” Elsewhere, demand for AM is high and increasing, in spite of the ready availability of conventional care. Many specific ethical challenges to AM are described here, including issues such as the lack of research evidence for the efficacy of many AMs, the quality control and safety of products, the regulation and competence of practitioners, issues affecting informed choice, and that AM treatment may delay or prevent patients from seeking mainstream healthcare. In addition, ethical considerations that extend beyond the autonomy and well-being of patients and practitioners are considered, including issues such as sustainability, respect for biodiversity, fairness and equity in healthcare, and protection of traditional knowledge and products. The World Health Organization is working closely with countries around the globe to determine how best they can promote health while protecting consumers who wish to use, or rely upon, AM.

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