Canadians Champion the Charter of Health Freedom To Preserve Access to Natural Health ProductsShawn Buckley September 1, 2010
I recently participated in a panel discussion at a Toronto health show with Michael Schmidt, the farmer who has stood up for our right to have access to raw milk. He said that we have to collectively start saying “no” to bureaucrats who are trying to take away our freedoms. I think he has the key to health freedom: unless we all individually get involved, there won’t be any health freedom for anybody.
This is an ethical issue, and you need to know the ethical cost of your complacency. You need to know the moral cost of saying “yes” to current government initiatives to restrict your health options. You say “yes” by doing nothing. Saying “no” requires action and involvement; saying “no” requires defiance. Inaction is acquiescence. Silence is a choice. I worry that when you or someone you love is facing a health crisis and no longer has access to effective natural remedies, you will find that the physical and moral cost of inaction was higher than you imagined.
We are now experiencing the increasing loss of natural remedies that we have been free to use for decades. If this continues, many natural remedies that we take for granted will be removed from the marketplace forever. How has this happened?
Until 2004, natural remedies were, in effect, unregulated. The regulations governing synthetic drugs were not written with natural health products (NHPs) in mind, as they are unpatentable. Most could not have complied with pharmaceutical drug regulations, primarily because clinical trials involving essential nutrients cannot, for internationally recognized ethical reasons, have a control group deprived of such nutrients. Prior to 2004, when Health Canada wanted to take a natural product off the market, it was easy. Most products were in non-compliance and the criminal enforcement process was often used arbitrarily to remove targeted products.
We tolerated this until the mid-1990s, when Health Canada stepped up its enforcement. Then we rebelled. Average Canadians were so worried that their access to natural remedies was being curtailed that they said “no.” They wrote letters, made calls, and attended rallies. The petition demanding that our natural products not be treated as dangerous drugs was signed by more people than any other petition in Canadian history.
The government backed down. The Minister of Health asked the Standing Committee on Health to formulate recommendations as to how natural remedies should be regulated. After exhaustive hearings, the Committee made over 30 recommendations, which all insisted that natural remedies should not be regulated as dangerous synthetic drugs because they are neither dangerous nor synthetic.
Significantly, everyone involved, including Health Canada, also acknowledged that Canadians were not only demanding continued access to the products they already had, but also wanted increased access to natural products. An expert transition team was set up, and it made similar recommendations. Then, after several years of delay, Health Canada ignored all of this parliamentary work and simply imposed drug-style regulations on our natural products!
WHY ARE NATURAL HEALTH PRODUCTS CLASSIFIED AS DRUGS BY THE GOVERNMENT?
Under the current Natural Health Product Regulations, our natural remedies are classed as drugs, and are assumed to be dangerous and ineffective until proven otherwise. They are, in effect, considered illegal and therefore must be removed, unless it can be proven to Health Canada’s satisfaction that they are safe and effective – again, based on the drug trial model, of course. The only possible result must now be the reduction of “approval” for many products. These arbitrarily imposed NHP Regulations are surprising, to say the least, when one remembers that the purpose of this whole long exercise was to respond to the popular demand for the increased availability of natural health products. This is even more surprising when contrasted with the United States, where the exact same products are classed as food, not drugs, and are deemed by law to be legal and safe. They cannot be removed from the market unless the FDA has documented evidence of harm.
So why is Health Canada going against the express wishes of Canadians? We are told it is all done for our safety, yet if you ask Health Canada to produce some evidence, such as a risk analysis showing potential of harm to justify their approach, you will be met with a blank stare. They haven’t done even one risk analysis. We have top-down imposed drug-style regulations without the support of any credible (verifiable) risk analysis to show that the approach is justified – Health Canada has no evidence that their policy ensures consumer safety.
In 2003, Health Canada estimated that there were 40-50,000 Natural Health Products available in Canada. With such a large number in use, it might surprise you to learn that there has never been a documented death from an NHP in our 143 years, in contrast to common foods like nuts and shellfish which cause several deaths annually. It is a statistical and scientifically-supported fact that the entire NHP industry is dramatically safer than peanut butter or shrimp. If we are not going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to regulate peanut butter or shrimp as drugs, why are we doing this to NHPs?
Given that the current regulations are going to take the majority of natural remedies away from us, it is obvious that a balanced risk analysis would be compelled to also ask whether it is safe to remove thousands of products that people are using to manage health conditions. Astonishingly, no one, Health Canada included, has done a risk analysis of either kind. I am convinced that our current policy is going to have severe health consequences for many Canadians.
GOVERNMENT REGULATION ENDANGERS PATIENTS WHO RELY ON NATURAL REMEDIES
I was introduced to the effectiveness of natural remedies when preparing for the defence of Jim Strauss, whose company was facing charges for claiming that its Heart Drops successfully treated heart disease. On the day of the trial, I had five witnesses who continued to suffer from heart disease after bypass surgery. They all needed a second bypass surgery to survive, but some were considered too weak to survive a second operation and were denied surgery. A couple were unwilling to go through this stressful experience again. For all of them, the mainstream medical system had become a death sentence. Then they came upon the Strauss Company’s Heart Drops. They tried this remedy, got well, and returned to work – even though they had been far too ill to work before. Behind these five witnesses were thousands of others with similar stories. Try to imagine the health cost to the public if this single product was taken from the market.
The same would later apply to the removal of EMPowerplus, a vitamin and mineral treatment for bipolar and major-depressive disorder. Despite warnings that taking the product away would lead to harm and possibly suicides, Health Canada temporarily restricted access. Ron LaJuenesse, who at one time ran all of Alberta’s mental health programs, personally warned the Minister of Health that he was concerned suicides would occur. After the first two suicides, he also informed the press. Tony Stephan, of Truehope (the manufacturer of EMPowerPlus), estimated that between 30-50 people died as a result of Health Canada’s action.
These are two examples of what can and does happen when products that people rely on for their health and survival are taken away. Government policies carry consequences, yet we are in the process of losing access to tens of thousands of products and are told that this is for our safety. Might this be a case of Orwellian “newspeak,” where the truth has become the opposite?
Forcing people to take chemical pharmaceutical drugs with known and fully documented potential for harmful side effects further complicates the danger of removing natural remedies. The only professional comparative risk analysis that used Canadian Gov.t Statistics was done by Ron Law back in 2002. It shows that the two leading causes of death in Canada are highly preventable deaths related to hospital care and the equally preventable and often deadly side effects of properly prescribed pharmaceutical drugs, which have now become the leading cause of death, as documented by research from Johns Hopkins Medical School. Given these facts, any government policy directed toward our safety should try to reduce our reliance on pharmaceuticals, rather than on NHPs.
Ten years from now, will we see that these NHP Regulations have saved even a single life? This is, of course, a rhetorical question. If there has not been a single recorded death from an NHP since 1867, it is unlikely that any deaths will occur over the next decade. The next question is not rhetorical. When we look back in 10 years, how many deaths will the NHP Regulations have caused? Given the known risks associated with pharmaceutical drugs, we may expect a huge increase in fatalities caused by government policy.
Because the current NHP Regulations put us all at risk, your compliance or defiance becomes and ethical issue. If you don’t do anything, you are saying “yes” to Natural Health Product Regulations.
A further ethical issue is raised by the Big Brother nature of the NHP Regulations. Suffering is personal; nobody but you experiences your suffering. When we are suffering, should we be prohibited from trying remedies that are not approved by Health Canada? What are we to do if the “approved” treatments do not work, as indeed so many don’t? As long as we are fully informed of potential risks, shouldn’t we be able to make our own decisions?
For example, when Health Canada was taking away EMPowerplus, thousands of people, who had not been able to manage their serious mental health issues with the “approved” drugs, were ordered to stop taking a natural product that worked, and to go back to the “approved” products that had not worked for them. A sample of their stories can be found at https://www.theredumbrellas.com/ostory.html” href=”https://www.theredumbrellas.com/ostory.html”>www.theredumbrellas.com/ostory.html (click on the pictures for each person’s story). Many told me that they already had a suicide plan in place should they run out of EMPowerplus. They were simply unwilling to go back to suffering from mental illness, along with the intolerable side effects of the “approved” drugs. Is it ethical for government to instruct citizens who were suicidal on the “approved” treatments that they cannot have access to treatments that made them functional members of the community?
Most Health Canada employees, who decide whether or not a natural remedy will be allowed, are not medically trained and never have to face a patient. They generally have only basic science degrees. Should these people be allowed to make these decisions, or should it be our health practitioners – be they doctors, naturopaths, homeopaths, or Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners (all of whom are now subject to their own regulatory professional organizations)?
If we do not respond to Michael Schmidt’s call to say “no,” then we all will bear the responsibility for imposing “approved” treatments on others. We will be responsible for endangering others by taking away effective treatments and by forcing them onto chemical drugs. Is this an ethical cost you are prepared to pay?
GET INVOLVED AND TAKE ACTION
I am often asked: what can I do? I don’t like answering that question. If someone believes they need to bring about change, I don’t want to limit them to my suggestions. I would rather share what I am doing and invite them to get involved if they like. I became involved because I am aggrieved by what is happening. One of the first initiatives I joined was the Charter of Health Freedom. Groups and individuals from across Canada came together and asked: how can we ensure that Canadians will continue to have health freedom? We identified those health freedoms that the courts have already declared ours and we put them into the Charter. For more information on the Charter and how to join the effort to create health freedom in Canada, see www.charterofhealthfreedom.org.
I also helped to form the Natural Health Products Protection Association, whose mandate is to protect our access to natural remedies. The NHPPA has developed a three-part plan toward this end:
* First: suspension of the current NHP Regulations. The loss of products must stop. We also don’t believe that trying to “tweak” the Regulations or getting Health Canada to be “reasonable” is realistic, given that even Parliament’s NHP recommendations were ignored. As long as natural remedies are assumed, without proof, to be illegal and dangerous, they will be restricted. We need to take the more reasonable approach prevalent in the U.S.
* Second: we are seeking financial support for a Charter legal challenge of these NHP Regulations. We believe they are unconstitutional. The Regulations come under “criminal” law. We don’t believe that NHPs, which are safer than peanut butter, carry enough of a risk to be considered potentially criminal. We are also mindful that the government only backed down in the 1990s on the eve of the lawsuit.
* Third: we are calling for the national adoption of the Charter of Health Freedom. The petition for the Charter is already one of the most subscribed to in Canadian history! Rather than being “reactive” to negative moves by Health Canada, the Charter creates a positive legal basis, which will enable the Government to protect us from actual risks, while at the same time protecting our right to make personal and informed health choices.
Do not underestimate the power of saying “no.” More importantly, don’t underestimate the high ethical cost of saying “yes.”
S. Chopra, Corrupt to the Core – Memoirs of a Health Canada Whistleblower, Kos, 2009
C. Dean, MD, Death by Modern Medicine, Matrix Veritee, 2005 and www.healthe-livingnews.com
H. Ferrie, What Part of No! Don’t They Understand?, Kos 2008, available for free on www.kospublishing.com
J. Virapen MD, Side Effects: Death – Confessions of a Pharma Insider, Virtualbookworm.com Publishing Inc. 2010
T. Young MP, Death by Prescription, Key Porter, 2009
Shawn Buckley is a lawyer with expertise in the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations. Mr. Buckley is also President of the Natural Health Products Protection Association, an association dedicated to protecting access to NHPs. The NHPPA is also one of the founding groups supporting the Charter of Health Freedom. Visit <a href="www.nhppa.org">www.nhppa.org</a>