There is something unexpectedly sinister about this news report from my former home town in Canada. Apparently, a local chiropractor has been using his “medical training” to excuse his sexual misconduct. Here’s the story from the Halifax Chronicle Herald:
During a hearing in July, the woman said the chiropractor would frequently grip her around the ribs and hold tight, sometimes cupping her breasts, while speaking softly over her shoulder.
On other visits, she said, he would have her lie on a table and would undo one side of her johnny shirt, exposing her breast, place a thumb between her breasts and roll her onto her side by pressing the weight of his own body on her.
Dr. LaPierre testified he performed a technique called the Zindler manoeuvre. It involves applying precise, quick pressure to a restricted joint to restore movement. He said he would have explained the procedure to her the first time but not on subsequent treatments…
The second incident involved a woman who complained that in 2006 the chiropractor “massaged” her breast while trying to find the source of her back pain.
Dr. LaPierre said he was using a technique called “matrix repatterning” that required contact with the woman’s sternum. He said he didn’t recall where the rest of his hand was at the time. He determined the woman had a rib out of alignment.
What was the punishment for his behavior?
Dr. Phillip LaPierre must have a female observer present when he examines women for the next five years, must take training on interpersonal skills and must pay a fine and costs totaling $26,000 now that a panel of the Nova Scotia College of Chiropractors has found him guilty of sexual misconduct based on the two complaints.
It’s hard to imagine such a small fee in an American court of law. If a US physician were molesting his patients, I’m willing to bet that the fine would have an additional zero or two at the end.
But what bothers me most about this chiropractor is that he was disguising his molestation as therapeutic techniques of a scientific nature. Terms like “matrix repatterning” and “Zindler manoeuvre” are thin veils for sexual perversion. How many women did he treat with a breast massage “to locate the source of their back pain?” How many were too ashamed to come forward to complain? How many were just confused enough by the “sciencey-sounding” terminology to question their own disgust?
Although it isn’t fair to blame the misbehavior of one chiropractor on the profession at large (and of course there are cases of sexual misconduct in the medical profession too), this case does illustrate the ease with which one can bend pseudoscience to the will of the practitioner. That just doesn’t work in science-based medicine. There is a demonstrable, pathophysiological rationale behind everything we do – and the dignity and integrity of that process should not be underestimated.
I agree with my peer and colleague Peter Lipson’s observation that alternative medicine has alternative ethics. Indeed, foisting make-believe therapies upon trusting patients is the height of betrayal as a healthcare provider. Taking those “therapies” and using them as a cover for sexual perversion and molestation is totally unacceptable.
When there are no scientific checks and balances involved in one’s practice – anything goes. And for some Canadian women, “interpersonal skills training” for Dr. LaPierre is the only “justice” they can expect. Please don’t be shruggie about alternative medicine practices. The final common pathway of deception is destruction. This case is just one prime example of it.