03/06/2012 06:01 EST | Updated 05/06/2012 05:12 EDT

Quebec nixes regulating naturopaths

Thousands of people calling themselves naturopaths are working in Quebec without any oversight, but the provincial government has no interest in regulating the profession.

The president of Quebec's Naturopathic Medicine Association, André Seine, said he is one of only 19 accreditted naturopathic doctors in Quebec, with a four-year degree from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and more than two decades of experience.

Technically, Seine said, he isn't even allowed to take a patient's blood pressure in Quebec. He said naturopathic practice is not illegal, but "alegal."

"There is no law. There are no regulations. So we are always susceptible to [charges that we] practice medicine without a license," Seine said.

Seine estimates there are 5,000 people who work as naturopaths in Quebec - many of them untrained.

"Some people will do a weekend training," he said. "They have a diploma to say they are a naturopath, and they will practice under that name."

It is this lack of training that leads Quebec's health ministry and the influential Quebec College of Physicians to dismiss naturopathy out-of-hand.

"There is no university program," college president Charles Bernard said. "It is all information that you pick up here and there."

Most Canadian provinces and American states do deem naturopathy to be a valuable addition to traditional medicine.

But Quebec Health Minister Yves Bolduc said his government has no intention of following suit.

"They are not doctors," said Bolduc. "They cannot practice medicine. That is not something we are looking at."

Seine's association has been petitioning the provincial authority that regulates professionals for official standing since 1992.

"We will not recognize naturopaths," said the Office des professions in a written statement. "No new facts concerning the potential risks to the public have been brought to our attention."

Seine contends the real reason behind the lack of recognition is the threat naturopaths pose to medical doctors.

"We are not pretending to practice medicine," Seine insisted. "We are practicing naturopathic medicine: different practice, different training, different education, different results."

The government's stance has left Quebec naturopaths with two choices - continue to practice medicine illegally in the hope that one day the government will change its position, or leave Quebec and work where their training and skills are recognized and appreciated.