A longtime scholar of Tibetan medicine writes:

As scholars and practitioners of ancient disciplines we must be aware of how,  in these times, that which has lasted for centuries can be obliterated or if  not in short order made simply into a profitable facade. I was at a conference on Ayurveda organized in NYC last fall in which MD's and  Nutriceutical businessmen, in concert with some legitimate practitioners,  spoke about taking a role in the active CAMization of Ayurveda in the US. A  small group of delegates from India were actively misinformed about the  nature of what is possible here and presented with a development model which was merely self-serving for those with machinations regarding the business  potential for Ayurveda. A sad scene.

 What do you think should be done to create a progressive alternative  movement? Of course in countries like India domestic biopiracy is a concern  in addition to that stemming from the West. How might we create true collaboration between those of us in the US, who desire to preserve traditional natural medicine systems - while developing  them as useful in the West -, and indigenous doctors in the East?


Subj:   BIOETHICS: CAM and Biopiracy

Date:   4/25/01 10:39:13 AM Central Daylight Time

From:   ETokar


There are real dangers for the survival of native culture and traditional natural medical knowledge that are being created by the current development of the Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) industry and the Nutraceutical industry in the USA. The Associated Press article that I am  forwarding to you below was sent to me by a colleague, Timothy McCall, M.D., and depicts just one small example of the evolving threat to traditional medical knowledge and the ecology of medicinal herbs.

I presented a paper at a large Tibetan medical conference in Lhasa, Tibet  last summer, and found that the Chinese authorities are imposing on Tibetan  medicine an agenda  greatly parallel to that which the CAM industry and the Nutraceutical industry are putting in place in the US concerning the  practice of all natural medicine. That is, 1) forcing traditional natural  medical systems into the Western biomedical model and 2) into the structure of the existing medical industrial complex and 3) turning herbal medicines into exploitable consumer products.   -[In the USA a 4th level of co-optation occurs to traditional natural medicine, where native doctors are inaccurately informed that evidence based medicine in the form of randomized controlled trials is the standard for safety and efficacy of all medicine practiced here. Proceeding from this falsehood comes a proliferation of many poorly designed reductionist research studies of complex natural medicine systems that do little to inform us about these systems or aid in their survival or development.]-   As the CAM and Nutraceutical industries increasingly put in force an agenda here which co-opts traditional natural medical systems, greater is the extent to which we become part of the global problems facing traditional medical systems and the ecology of herbal medicines.

As the medical industry rushes forth to find ways to "integrate" natural medicine, the values of the 30+ year grassroots alternative medicine movement are being mostly eliminated by the building of the new CAM industry. CAM's development directly results from the medical industry's discovery, in the early 1990's, that Americans were spending millions of dollars on "unconventional" health practices. As such, CAM represents an attempt to regulate and contain that popular expansion of medical freedom. To its credit, CAM has certainly been a vehicle through which people's access to certain medical procedures derived from traditional medical systems has been expanded. However, these procedures do not represent the full value of the traditional medical systems from which they are taken. The CAM industry is bringing to the field of natural medicine many of the aspects of commerce and hierarchy that have caused the ongoing healthcare crisis in the practice of allopathic medicine in the US. It has also created a situation where the theft and exploitation of traditional medical knowledge, i.e. biopiracy, will likely become more common in the world. We must work together for progressive change in order to prevent this occurrence. We must be willing to think about the effect that the actions we take here in the US will have on both our fellow citizens and on the rest of the world.

Please forward this article to anyone whom you think would be concerned about these issues. Please feel free to respond to this information with your thoughtful comments.

Warmest Regards,

Eliot Tokar


--This message is dedicated to the memory of the late Dr. Tenzin Choedrak, personal physician to H. H. the Dalai Lama--