The Editorial Executive Committee welcomes letters, which should be less than 250 words. Before a decision to publish is made, letters which refer to a published article may be sent to the author for a response. Any letter may be sent to an expert for comment. When letters are published, they are usually accompanied in the same issue by their responses or comments. The Committee screens out discourteous, inaccurate or libellous statements. The letters are sub-edited before publication. Authors are required to declare any conflicts of interest. The Committee's decision on publication is final.
Letter to the editor
Editor, – The authors of 'The quality and safety of traditional Chinese medicines' (Aust Prescr 2003;26:128-30) recommend the establishment of a quality testing system for Chinese herbs and their derivatives, in order to minimise mislabelling and identify undeclared components. This is based on the claims that the 'chemistry of herbal medicines is the foundation of their pharmacology', and that 'for most Chinese medicines the active components responsible for their pharmacological activities and clinical applications are not well defined'. The authors also point to the Chinese Medicine Registration Act in Victoria as an example of statutory regulation which will encourage the safe use of traditional Chinese medicines.
These recommendations are unexceptionable. However, these recommendations contain an irony, or a threat, depending on whether you subscribe to Western or Chinese medical systems. What is proposed is the application of Western scientific methods of analysis to Chinese medicines, in order to classify them as safe. In other words, the Chinese medical system, in order to survive in the dominant scientific culture, must subject itself to that culture's rules. This means that it cannot survive as a distinct and autonomous paradigm.
Mechanisms designed to ensure that Chinese medicines and practice (and any other traditional systems) continue to be recognised and respected, will ultimately ensure their demise.
Associate Professor of Medical Ethics
School of Medicine
University of Queensland
- Expert committee on complementary medicines in the health system. Complementary medicines in the Australian health system. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2003. http://www.tga.gov.au/docs/pdf/cmreport.pdf [cited 2004 March]