Judging merits of veterinary homeopathy not an AVMA objective

Delegates defeat resolution to discourage controversial modality

January 23, 2014 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala

VIN News Service photo
Delegates sat silent before voting to defeat a resolution asking the American Veterinary Medical Association to shun homeopathy via a policy statement. The measure failed by more than 90 percent.
Last year’s vigorous debate about the scientific and medical merits of homeopathy fizzled during an American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) House of Delegates meeting this month.

Delegates quietly and overwhelming rejected a resolution that called on the AVMA to publicly discourage and identify homeopathy as an “ineffective practice.”

No discussion took place on the House floor prior to the vote on Jan. 11. Most of the delegates already had come to a consensus that the AVMA shouldn’t be in the business of rejecting individual modalities.

Dr. Arnold Goldman, delegate representing the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA), called the decision "expected."

“A lot of people have realized that the AVMA, while certainly involved in science, would create a great deal of internal division" by passing the resolution, he said.

Goldman’s stance on homeopathy — echoing a Dec. 20 letter from the AVMA Executive Board — has softened since January 2013, when he spoke in favor of the resolution submitted by his state association.

Proponents of the CVMA's resolution wanted the AVMA to encourage its members to distance themselves from homeopathy and affirm that the safety and efficacy of veterinary therapies should be based solely on solid science. Homeopathy involves treating patients with highly diluted substances with the aim of triggering the body’s natural system of healing.

But majority of House members were wary of condemning the practice. At last year's meeting, instead of voting on whether the resolution should pass, delegates tabled it in order to seek guidance from the AVMA Executive Board as well as the AVMA Council on Research and the AVMA Council on Veterinary Service.

After a review of the homeopathy literature, the Council on Research said "there is no clinical evidence to support the use of homeopathic remedies for treatment or prevention of diseases in domestic animals."

The Council on Veterinary Service determined that the AVMA shouldn't "single out homeopathy or any other treatment modality in alternative or traditional medicine for additional scrutiny of effectiveness."

Those perspectives were shared with delegates prior to this month's House of Delegates meeting, where the resolution resurfaced for final consideration.

A majority vote is required for resolutions to pass the AVMA House of Delegates, which has representatives from every state, several territories and a dozen or more allied groups. While AVMA policies carry no legal or regulatory teeth, how the nation’s largest membership group for veterinarians stands on issues can influence state licensing bodies governing the practice of veterinary medicine.

Goldman says he doesn’t support homeopathy any more than he did a year ago, but he now believes the AVMA must tread cautiously in publicly judging the merits of a niche modality.

Dr. Brennen McKenzie doesn't agree. As president-elect of the Evidence-Based Veterinary Medical Association, he co-authored a white paper presented last year to delegates that denounced homeopathy as medicine.

"I understand the AVMA is not interested in passing judgment even on the most egregiously pseudoscientific therapies for political reasons," he said. "However, I do feel it would be right and appropriate for the organization to do so, as other similar organizations abroad have done. This decision places collegiality above the interests of the public and patients, and while I understand the motives and concerns, I do not agree that the House of Delegates made the right decision for the profession."

The British Veterinary Association and the Australia Veterinary Association each have policies that do not endorse homeopathic medicines, calling such remedies ineffective.

Goldman says homeopathy can be considered to fall under the AVMA’s policy on Complementary, Alternative and Integrative Veterinary Medicine, which states that the diagnosis and treatment of patients should be based on sound, accepted veterinary medicine principles and a veterinarian’s medical judgment.

“It’s all about being collegial,” Goldman said, referring to a desire to not alienate AVMA members who practice homeopathy. “Every veterinarian is responsible to their clients and the licensing board for every action they take. It’s not for a professional society, a membership society, to tell veterinarians who practice homeopathy, ‘no.’ "

The Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy — a group comprised of 133 veterinarians not represented in the House of Delegates — expressed outrage last year at the idea that the AVMA might publicly discourage homeopathy.

Given the resolution's outcome, leaders of the organization now say they're "thrilled."

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