As we learned in Legislative Alchemy I: Naturopathy, legislative alchemy is the process used by state legislatures to transform implausible and unproven diagnostic methods and treatments into legal health care practices.
Today, we review how chiropractors are faring in the 2011 state legislative sessions.
In 1895, a self-described “magnetic healer,” Daniel David Palmer, claimed to have discovered that every person possessed an “Innate Intelligence,” defined as the body’s capacity to heal itself, which flowed from the brain out through the nerves in the spinal cord. Misaligned vertebrae impinged on nerves and interfered with the flow of Innate Intelligence, causing “95 percent of all disease.”
Palmer named these putative misalignments “subluxations,” and began teaching students how to detect and correct them based on his notion that removing this interference would return the free flow of Innate Intelligence and the body would heal itself. In other words, chiropractic was — and, as we shall see, still is — simply another form of vitalism, a long-discredited notion that illnesses are caused by a disturbance or imbalance of the body’s “vital force,” which is distinct from the body’s biochemical processes.
Palmer and his disciples were arrested for practicing medicine without a license, which led to a strategy of chiropractors lobbying state legislatures for their own chiropractic practice acts. This effort stretched from 1913, when Kansas became the first state to license chiropractors, to 1974, when Louisiana became the last.
Subluxation: it’s the law
The non-existent chiropractic subluxation remains the central tenet of the 50 state chiropractic practice acts to this day.
Twenty-one state chiropractic acts mention it specifically as the basis for chiropractic practice. For example, Connecticut defines chiropractic practice as:
the science of adjustment, manipulation and treatment of the human body in which vertebral subluxations and other malpositioned articulations and structures that may interfere with the normal generation, transmission and expression of nerve impulse between the brain, organs and tissue cells of the body, which may be a cause of the disease, are adjusted, manipulated or treated.
Twenty-three states refer to its purported attributes — without actually using the “s” word. In North Carolina, chiropractic practice is defined as:
the science of adjusting the cause of the disease by realigning the spine, releasing pressure on nerves radiating from the spine to all parts of the body, and allowing the nerves to carry their full quota of health current (nerve energy) from the brain to all parts of the body.
Did they say “science”? Here’s how much science is involved in chiropractic’s core concept — there’s not even a plausible hypothesis of what a subluxation is or how it might affect human functioning.
Six states simply incorporate by reference practices and procedures taught in chiropractic schools, which remain loyal to the subluxation although some have tried to distance themselves from the word, if not the concept.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that chiropractors are permitted by law to treat any disease or condition by detecting and correcting subluxations, just most any disease or condition, as long as the problem is defined in terms of the patient’s having one or more subluxations stopping up the “flow” of “nerve energy.” Asthma, allergies, ADHD, painful periods and earaches are a few of the many conditions widely advertised as treatable by chiropractic adjustment.
You might think it would cause the chiropractic industry some alarm that legislators might wake up to the fact that subluxations don’t exist. And apparently that is the case. In a few states chiropractors are attempting to expand the chiropractic scope of practice by including authority to prescribe that former anathema to chiropractic: drugs. For years chiropractors branded themselves as doctors who treat patients “without drugs or surgery.”