Organized Medicine’s Private War Against Chiropractic

Since its founding in 1895, chiropractic has been noteworthy for the steady improvement in its educational standards, in the skills of its practitioners, and in the rapidly increasing millions of satisfied chiropractic patients. Under the circumstances, it would seem logical to conclude that medical doctors might be happy to welcome this new healing art, take note of its special approach to health, and refer patients to chiropractors when the patient’s condition warrants.

Such acceptance has generally not been the case, even though the average medical doctor is overworked and admits privately to himself that there are many areas of illness in which he can be of little or no help. Although the total of M.D.’s who recommend chiropractic is increasing, it is still tiny compared to the entire profession, while the majority of medical doctors, following the lead of their official organizations, have very little, if anything, to say in chiropractic’s favor.

There are several reasons for this. The first, to put it bluntly, is fear of successful competition. To recall the cynical comment of Horace Gray, M.D., in New International Clinics: “It is well known that the regular physician seldom speaks favorably in public of any out-side the regular fold.”

Another reason, in many instances,. is sheer ignorance of chiropractic, which seems usually to be accompanied by an unwillingness to accept and investigate the possibility that there might be a successful method of healing not taught in medical schools. This attitude of “if I don’t know it, then it can’t be of much value” is not limited to medical doctors; it is a common human failing.

The truth is that few medical doctors know anything about chiropractic. Most M.D.’s have not studied it, and it is seldom mentioned except disparagingly in medical journals.

This medical ignorance of chiropractic was emphasized scathingly in a recent article in Medical Economics, which asked the M.D. such questions as these:

“Have you or your medical society conducted any conclusive research to determine whether there’s any validity in chiropractic doctrine? If so, what are the specific details? If not, what makes you so positive that there’s nothing to chiropractic? What recent chiropractic textbooks have you read? Do you read the scientific articles in chiropractic journals? No? Then, since you admit your ignorance of progress in chiropractic, why do you come here as an expert on the subject?”

As the great English philosopher, Herbert Spencer, once observed, “There is a principle which is a bar against all argument, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance. This principle is condemnation without investigation.”

Spinal adjustment in the treatment of disease was not only unknown to the medical profession until recently, but was pooh-poohed besides.

In 1934, when a bill to license chiropractic was about to be introduced in the New York State Legislature, a questionnaire was sent to 29 men who were either medical doctors or who had studied anatomy in medical schools. Its purpose was to get their views regarding chiropractic.

One of the respondents, Dr. Charles Macfie Camp-bell, Director of Boston Psychopathic Hospital and Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard University, made no bones about his ignorance of chiropractic, but went right on to condemn it anyway. He wrote “I have made no independent study of the writing of those who rep-resent the procedure called chiropractic, but my impression is . . . that it is based upon inadequate and misleading anatomical and physiological statements . . ”

Only three of the 29 respondents said they thought some illnesses might be caused by subluxated vertebrae. Only nine stated that they had first hand knowledge of how subluxations could cause narrowings of the vertebral openings. Only eight granted that subluxations might be reduced by hand. Only two said there might be some scientific basis to chiropractic.

The New York chiropractic bill did not pass, and numerous others which have since been introduced in that state have also failed to pass, due, say chiropractors, to the efforts of the powerful New York State medical lobby, which is determined to prevent the enactment of chiropractic legislation in that state. It is of interest, however, that all the chiropractic principles outlined in the 1934 questionnaire have since been accepted by medical science although not, of course, under the name “chiropractic.”

It is also significant at this particular point to note that medical science, or at least the conservative branch of it which in general has ruled the field with an iron hand, has a long record of opposition to new developments. Many a medical pioneer was ruthlessly pilloried and has gained recognition for his theories and work only after a bitter struggle.

Consider, for example, the great anatomist Vesalius, who was ridiculed mercilessly when he attempted to describe the human body as it is actually constructed. Also castigated was William Harvey, after he asserted that the blood circulates throughout the body. Dr. Bodington, when he suggested that tubercular patients be exposed to fresh air, was laughed down as a faddist. Semmelweiss, whose work with puerperal fever is now world acclaimed, was held up to scorn when he recommended that careful hygienic measures be employed at childbirth; his persecution was so brutal that he went insane. The Royal Society of Physicians of Lon-don rejected the discovery by Marshall Hall of the reflex function of the spinal cord and brain. More recently, the Australian nurse Sister Kenny was assailed for her new—and successful—approach to the handling of poliomyelitis.

Thus the attack on chiropractic is nothing new. Orthodoxy seems to have a congenital antipathy toward the new, while the intellectually hidebound seem to have a special talent for working their way into positions of authority.

To begin to grasp the scope of medicine’s war against chiropractic—and it is a war—it is necessary to understand something of the nature of so-called “organized medicine,” as distinguished from the individual medical doctor. For many centuries, medicine has had its private organizations, just as numerous other arts and sciences like architecture and law have had. One of the purposes of these organizations has been to gain various advantages for members; another is to thwart possible competition.

In the United States, the major medical organization is the American Medical Association. Affiliated with the A.M.A. and working in close cooperation with it are state and county medical societies. The A.M.A. has been termed one of the most powerful monopolies in world history. In his book The Medical Trust Unmasked, John L. Spivak calls it “the most powerful trust ever organized . . .” In the book These Cults, Annie Riley Hale denounces the A.M.A. as “the most colossal, the most all-inclusive publicity machine ever known.” Incidentally, in a famous recent action both the A.M.A. and the associated Medical Society of the District of Columbia were convicted in Federal Court on charges of preventing patients from utilizing the services of healers of their choice.

In the 1880′s, U.S. organized medicine succeeded in having all the states enact “Medical Practice Acts” which in almost every instance defined the practice of medicine as including just about everything under the sun the M.D. chose to do. These acts also prohibited non-medical persons from engaging in any form of healing—since that would be practicing medicine

and set up penalties for violations. In effect, they outlawed all new types of healing that might come along, even though they bore not the slightest resemblance to the practice of medicine, and made it possible to prosecute and penalize under the charge of “practicing medicine without a license.” It was only through the weight of cumulative favorable public opinion that legislative recognition of certain non-medical healing arts such as chiropractic was achieved. Even today, as previously noted, chiropractic still has no legislative sanction in four of our states although it is widely practiced in all of them.

Organized medicine, working as a pressure group, has succeeded in gaining control of practically all governmental health functions and services, staffing them with its own members. There is not a tax-aided or tax-supported hospital that is not under medical control. In many of these hospitals it is impossible for any sort of healer other than an M.D. to gain professional entry, even though his services are not only requested but demanded by the patient.

In some states, the medical organization has obtained the passage of legislation prohibiting other than medical doctors from using the title “doctor” even though non-medical practitioners such as chiropractors have earned doctors’ degrees. In other states the chiropractor can refer to himself as a doctor only if he qualifies the statement by the additional words “of chiropractic.” Thus, in these states, the medical doctor is merely “Dr. John Doe” while the doctor of chiropractic is “Richard Roe, Doctor of Chiropractic.”

Because of preferential laws like these, the very title “doctor” has been largely appropriated by the medical group, and is generally associated in the public mind with medical doctors only. As a simple test of this, ask any person whether or not a chiropractor is a doctor, and he will probably say no, although the opposite is the truth.

The average layman will find it hard to believe this, but organized medicine has what amounts to a virtual monopoly over the flow of news to the public concerning the healing arts. In 1937, the A.M.A. held a”special conference” at which “representatives of organized medicine in America, medical columnists, and science reporters exchanged views on ways and means to keep the public informed of progress in medical science.” Actually this was an attempt to persuade the writers to submit voluntarily to A.M.A. censorship. How well it succeeded may be gained from the fact that, even today, almost all science writers abide by a code which in essence says, “Science editors are incapable of judging the facts of phenomena involved in medical and scientific discovery. Therefore they only report discoveries approved by medical authorities of rank, like Fishbein (Morris Fishbein, M.D., former editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association), or those presented before a body of scientific peers.”

The censorship works this way. Editors are human beings, subject to error like everyone else. They do not profess to be authorities on healing. So, when a story that might be controversial reaches an editor’s desk, he generally picks up the telephone and contacts a medical censor for an opinion. If the verdict is “don’t run it” the story is killed.

Does this appear incredible? Then try to get an item in favor of chiropractic, for example, in your local newspaper, on a wire service, or in a magazine. The chances are overwhelming that you will fail. Cynics assert that many editors fear that if they fail to follow the advice of a medical censor their publications will lose valuable drug advertising. Whether or not this is true, it is certain beyond doubt that the majority of editors consider the medical censor the ultimate authority on what and what not to print concerning healing.

Thus, in addition to belittling chiropractic at every opportunity, organized medicine is able to exercise an almost complete blackout on the subject of chiropractic’s possible merits in virtually every medium of public information.

Another powerful weapon against chiropractic is the instigation of prosecution for “practicing medicine without a license.” As early as 1903, D. D. Palmer was arrested, convicted, and jailed for six months on this charge. Thousands of similar prosecutions have been brought against chiropractors over the years since then. In most instances paid agents are used. These persons deliberately try to entice chiropractors to perform medical services, such as prescribing drugs. Chiropractic patients have been subpoenaed in droves.

As chiropractic gained more and more satisfied patients who knew from personal experience that chiropractors do not practice medicine, the medical campaign of prosecution frequently boomeranged.

What happened in the State of California is a case in point. In just one year, 450 of approximately 600 chiropractors were hauled into court and convicted of practicing medicine without a license. They were given jail sentences or the alternative of a fine. Instead of choosing the fines, they chose to go to jail. This attracted so much public sympathy for the chiropractors that in 1922, when a bill to license chiropractors was put before the voters in a referendum, it was passed by a majority of 145,000, although in the election prior to the mass convictions a similar bill had been defeated by 1,500 votes.

In many of these California cases the sympathy of practically all concerned (with the exception of the complainants who were almost invariably medical organizations and not individual medical doctors) was obviously on the side of the prosecuted chiropractors. This sympathy was expressed in various ways creating situations that ranged from the humorous to explosions of blistering anger.

In Bakersfield, following the arrest and arraignment of a trio of chiropractors, Judge Bunnel observed that very few witnesses for the prosecution showed up, When he asked the sheriff the reason for this phenomenon, the sheriff explained: “Your Honor, the sheriff’s office has been unable to catch the witnesses. They hide under beds and run out the back doors. They won’t testify against these chiropractors.” The case, like a multitude of others, was dismissed because of lack of evidence.

In Taft, following the arrest of five chiropractors, the prosecution requested that each man be placed under $1,000 bond. But the judge, who apparently approved of the right to use chiropractic, drawled: “I’m very sorry, but a goat got in last night and ate up all the bonds for $1,000, so we’ll make it $100.”

When five chiropractors were arrested in a single day at Long Beach, the indignant citizenry staged a giant protest meeting that was attended by more than 1,200 persons. One of the principal speakers at this meeting was a fearless M.D., Dr. E. C. Fortin of Los Angeles.

Protests against the high-handed prosecution of chiropractors flooded the newspapers. Many not only defended the chiropractors but also attacked the tactics of organized medicine with enthusiasm. A letter writ-ten by a Sacramento minister and printed in The California Telegram blasted angrily, “To our knowledge not one accusation, as a matter of record in California, has been brought against any chiropractor by any patient. Charges and convictions were based upon decoy evidence.

“The Medical Practice Law is the only law, we believe, on the California Statute books that requires hired, coached, trained spies to detect violators of the law . . . It is a crime to incite to crime. If chiropractic is criminal, is it not a crime to incite the practice of chiropractic?”

What went on in California was not unusual; it was paralleled in practically every state prior to the enactment of chiropractic legislation. In states where chiropractic has not yet obtained official sanction it is still going on.

Largest of these is New York State, with 3,000 chiropractors and some 3,000,000 people who have been under their care. Many New York chiropractors have been arrested; on one occasion there was a mass arrest of twenty-two. Of the 22, only four were brought to trial and were promptly acquitted, while charges against the remaining 18 were dismissed because of lack of evidence.

Sometimes the charges brought against chiropractors have bordered on the bizarre. In a recent New York case a woman chiropractor was indicted by a Grand Jury on charges that she had violated the Medical Practice Act merely by proclaiming herself to be a chiropractor in conversation, and on her business cards, and in the classified telephone directory. She was convicted. But ultimately a higher court held that use of the legend “chiropractor” does not imply that the user is a practitioner of medicine, that conceivably a chiropractor can render a treatment to the human body which is not the practice of medicine, and that maintaining an office for the practice of chiropractic was not in violation of the Education Law, under which the Medical Practice Act is administered.

In Louisiana, where chiropractic still does not have official sanction, a similar situation prevails: About half the state’s chiropractors have been hauled into court on charges of “practicing medicine without a license.” And in Massachusetts, in a typical recent case, two Greenfield chiropractors were found guilty on the same old convenient charge.

Every time the supporters of chiropractic press for the enactment of chiropractic legislation or for other recognition of chiropractic, as by insurance companies, the opposition of organized medicine is immediate and powerful. For example, when a bill to include chiropractors in the Federal Employees’ Compensalion Act was introduced during World War II, letters were received from many medical leaders blasting chiropractic in no uncertain terms. It was described variously as “. . . not only over the hill but I believe on the down grade . . .” “As far as I know, chiropractic has made no valuable contribution to science, art, literature, or anything else . . .” “The public should be protected against such ignorance . . .” “The passage of such a proposal would be a travesty on the high quality of medical service . . .”

And at the hearings, medical blockbusters such as these were exploded :

“Chiropractic . . . has no fixed meaning.” “Contrary to well-established and easily demonstrable facts . . .” “The chiropractic theory of disease is too ridiculous to withstand any kind of experimental proof.” “An old form of faith cure under a new name . . .” “A total misrepresentation of both the structure and function of those parts it attempts to explain.” “Subluxations of the vertebrae do not occur and even if they did they would not cause disease of any internal organ.” (The last sentence is italicized to emphasize its importance; in Chapter 15 there will be found quotations from many medical doctors in direct contradiction to this statement.)

And along similar lines, in 1950, when hearings were underway in the Congress concerning a bill to authorize the appointment of doctors of chiropractic in the Department of Medicine and Surgery of the Veterans’ Administration, the head of the Washington office of the A.M.A. wrote the legislators : “The theory (of chiropractic) is not new. It has been advanced for years and if it had scientific value, it is reasonable to believe that it would have been recognized and the system developed by some of our universities … (it is) a form of treatment which obviously is not the best.”

In the four states where chiropractic has still not attained legislative recognition the battle against such legislation goes on year after year with machine-like persistence, even though public approbation of chiropractic is increasing steadily and the ultimate defeat of organized medicine appears certain. Obviously this last ditch struggle is fought with desperation and includes attempts to influence not only the legislators but the general public as well. According to chiropractors, just about every pressure tactic and dirty trick known to the most skilled and unscrupulous political . machines is employed.

Consider New York State, where chiropractors are optimistic of winning, as an example. There, a recent article in a county medical journal ridiculed chiropractic as chiro-quack-tic and appealed to the M.D.s to “stand united as one man in vigorous opposition to the licensing of chiropractic.”

A pamphlet, titled What Price Your Life?, was also given widespread public distribution. Again, according to chiropractors, this booklet is a scare-type smear of chiropractic and chiropractors, full of distortions of the truth and absolute falsehoods which are disproved by the spoken words and published writings of medical authorities themselves.

“Danger ahead” screams What Price Your Life? in warning the public against the pending bills to license “chiropractic and other cultists.” Chiropractors are defined as “persons who have nibbled at the fringe of medical knowledge.” D. D. Palmer is ridiculed as a young grocer “who also peddled fish” and practiced as a “magnetic healer.”

Great emphasis is placed on instructional evils in the early days of chiropractic, while improvements in chiropractic education are belittled.

There is a strong implication that chiropractic is frequently dangerous. “Excerpts” are given from the records of the Chief Medical Examiner of the City of New York:

“A ten-year-old boy has appendicitis. A chiropractor treats him for `stomachache.’ The boy dies.

“A five-year-old girl has a chiropractic `adjustment’ for `sore throat.’ She, too, dies—from diphtheria.

“A prominent attorney is treated for headache. Autopsy after death reveals a small hemorrhage at the brain’s base. But hemorrhage didn’t kill the attorney. An `adjustment’ that was supposed to relieve the head-ache produced the man’s death by causing a broken neck.”

The implication is also plain that many similar cases might be found “in the records of medical examiners, courts and coroners throughout the country.”

No graver charges than the above can be imagined. Regarding these three cases, the records show that the ten-year-old boy died around 1920, the five-year-old girl in 1922, and the “prominent attorney” in 1942. These same three cases have been publicized again and again by organized medicine, both in medical journals and in the public press.

Chiropractors ask somewhat sarcastically why, if they are responsible for so many deaths, only three alleged instances have been found in the records of the Chief Medical Examiner of the City of New York over a period of more than 20 years, while not one has been found since 1942. And they point out that for every such case occurring under chiropractic, a thousand headlines such as “Dies Following Operation” and “Stricken After Inoculation” might be quoted that cast grave implications concerning the merits of medical treatment. “Patient for patient and disease for disease,” they emphasize, “the death rate under chiropractic is much lower than it is under medicine.”

It is significant that in none of the above three cases were criminal charges brought against the chiropractor concerned, proof positive of no evidence of malpractice. Furthermore, chiropractors charge that the case of the “prominent attorney,” as described in What Price Your Life?, is an out and out falsehood.

Here is the chiropractic version of that death. The “prominent attorney” came home. He may or may not have been intoxicated. He went into his bathroom, slipped, fell, and broke his neck. A chiropractor who happened to live next door, a Dr. Rosenstein, was summoned. He examined the injured man and summoned an ambulance; he administered no chiropractic adjustment. At the hospital, the man was pronounced D.O.A. (dead an arrival). Examination by medical doctors disclosed that his neck was broken. Only the newspapers and organized medicine “convicted” Dr. Rosenstein of implication in the attorney’s death.

“Upon the physician depends life itself,” continues What Price Your Life? and then comes the warning, “When we cheapen medical standards by licensing cults, quacks, and chiropractors, we step backward toward the days of witchcraft and wizards.”

Chiropractors retort that since chiropractic is not medicine, medical standards cannot be cheapened by chiropractic licensure.

Then comes the flat statement that the chiropractor has contributed nothing to science. Chiropractors denounce this as an outright lie, provable as such by references in medical literature itself.

What Price Your Life? features a “warning” letter by Edward T. Wentworth, M.D., President, Medical Society of New York, which carries all the authority of royalty. Here is this pronunciamento in its entirety:

“Any licensure of chiropractors just because they have been practicing chiropractic, means elevation to professional level of those who have not met the qualifications. It means giving professional status, prestige and official stamp of approval to those who do not have the qualifications. It means a compromise between scientific thought and completely unscientific thought. There is no such thing as compromise between science and fraud. Science is based upon demonstrable relations of fact to fact, not once or occasionally by chance, but always. Fraud is circumvention of factual relations by deceit and trickery. One single admission of fraud into science, destroys science.”

This letter does not equivocate; it denounces chiropractic as “completely unscientific” and “fraud.” The chiropractic reply is that it constitutes out and out libel. And jubilantly chiropractors assert that, despite organized medicine’s most vindictive efforts in New York State, they are winning their battle there as well as everywhere else.

The private war of organized medicine against chiropractic never ceases, whether or not the latter has attained legislative sanction. One of the favorite medical devices is ridicule, which is nowhere better utilized than in the book Fads and Quackery in Healing by Morris Fishbein, M.D. Fishbein unfairly describes the typical chiropractor as using language like “Chuesday” and “Thoisday” for Tuesday and Thursday and jerking the patient’s head “until his head cracks” or pulling his leg, “depending on the particular school of chiropractic in which he was instructed.”

In at least one instance, medical pressure has succeeded in “killing” a presentation favorable to chiropractic even after publication. This occurred after the book, Finding our Place in Life, a vocational guidance aid for children, came out. When the medical censors read it, they found that it contained a section on the merits of chiropractic and the career opportunities it offered. They protested to the Heckscher Foundation for Children, which had produced the book, and the chiropractic material was deleted from subsequent editions.

It might seem from all of this—and much more that might be added—that chiropractic is just about finished, so thoroughly discredited that the only chiropractic patients remaining are gullible ignoramuses or crackpots. But such is not the case, despite the most determined and persistent efforts of organized medicine to destroy this competitor science. To the contrary, chiropractic is healthier than ever before, it has more practitioners and patients, its prestige is greater, and it is firmly established as the world’s second largest healing art.

Abraham Lincoln once said: “You may fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” This appears to have occurred in the case of organized medicine’s war against chiropractic. A vast segment of the public has been guided by results rather than by propaganda, and chiropractic’s amazing growth has been the result of their satisfaction. Except in a few remaining isolated areas and instances, organized medicine’s war upon chiropractic has signally failed.