TCAM: Should registered biomedical practitioners be using it?

Alma M H Rae1

1 Masters Student, Bioethics Centre, University of Otago, New Zealand.

The use of traditional and complementary medicines is increasing around the world.  This paper focuses on ethics and law as applicable to the use of TCAM modalities, in New Zealand, by doctors trained in mainstream Western biomedicine.  Particular attention is paid to traditional Chinese medicine including acupuncture, to Ayurveda, and to homeopathy.  A discussion of the ways TCAM use may satisfy, or violate, the principles of beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy and justice is followed by a look at relevant legal provisions, how they are actually applied in this area of medical practice, and what might be done to improve them, in order both to protect the public and to give doctors greater clarity as to what is, and is not, responsible and ethical medical practice.  I conclude that, broadly speaking, TCAM is not the proper domain of biomedical practitioners, and that a permissive subsection in our Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act should be removed.


Alma Rae became a registered medical practitioner in NZ in 1981.  Following six years in general practice she trained in psychiatry and has worked in that specialty ever since.  After attending a Philosophy and Psychiatry Conference in 2000 she developed an interest in bioethics, which led via the Bioethics Centre in Dunedin to a Masters in Bioethics and Health Law.  The current presentation derives from her dissertation for that degree.

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