The concept of individual liberty and the checks to prevent abuse of power by government are built into the American constitution. At the same time the thread that unites this country is a democratically elected federal government with a mandate to look for the greater good for all residents in the country, and to use its given powers to limit the abuse of power by individuals and organizations.
The struggle for balance between these opposite interests can be seen clearly in the field of health care. Any profession which has a social responsibility has to be accountable to society, especially if that profession wields influence and power and has the potential to do damage as well as good. In the broad area of medicine, this is achieved by licensure. In the 1800s licensure for physicians was enacted in all the states although it was revoked a number of times by legislatures afraid that it created a monopoly of power in one professional group. Over time however, it became the norm in establishing professional standards and accountability. The idea of licensure in medicine is to create standards of practice for the profession and to give formal oversight and accountability to enforce these standards to the medical boards of each state in liaison with other state regulatory bodies. In principle this seems a good system to have in place.
However, when the medical statutes were written, the result was a monopolistic right to a particular practice rarely seen in any other profession. As stated in the California Medical Practices Act .anyone who "diagnoses" or "treats" any "ailment, blemish, deformity, disease, disfigurement, disorder, injury, or other physical or mental condition of any person" without the benefit of state licensure may, at least technically, be practicing medicine without a license. The result is that many different therapies, even if they are not diagnosing in the traditional sense and are not prescribing drugs can still be categorized as the practice of medicine. In other words, anything that aids another persons health can be interpreted as being within the exclusive domain of a licensed physician. Although other therapies have since become licensed, eg Acupuncture and Chiropractic, many have not and at the moment exist in the gray area of the law.
However, there is movement afoot to address this situation by creating a law that will enable practitioners of many alternative and complementary therapies to practice freely in California without needing to go through the arduous and prohibitively expensive process of legislating for licensure.
This is being sponsored by an organization called the California Health Freedom Coalition. They can be found on their website at www.californiahealthfreedom.org. They need all the support they can get to build up a huge consumer grassroots base to legislate for freedom of choice in healthcare. The goal is not to challenge licensure of physicians but to give access to many disciplines that can offer people options in the healthcare needs, to allow people to choose for themselves the therapies they want. Given the level of interest in alternative and complementary therapies this would be a huge step forward.