The New Zealand Commission of Inquiry

Another particularly significant study of chiropractic was conducted by the New Zealand Commission of Inquiry. In its 377-page report to the House of Representatives, the Commission states that their report followed an extended (two-year) inquiry which at that time was “probably the most comprehensive and detailed independent examination of chiropractic ever undertaken in any country.” Excerpts from the Commission’s report follow:

“We entered into our inquiry in early 1978. We had no clear idea what might emerge. We knew little about chiropractors. None of us had undergone any personal experience of chiropractic treatment. If we had any general impression of chiropractic it was probably that shared by many in the community: that chiropractic was an unscientific cult, not to be compared with orthodox medical or paramedical services. We might well have thought that chiropractors were people with perhaps a strong urge for healing, who had for some reason not been able to get into a field recognized by orthodox medicine and who had found an outlet outside the fringes of orthodoxy.
“But as we prepared ourselves for this inquiry it became apparent that much lay beneath the surface of these apparently simple terms of reference. In the first place it transpired that for many years chiropractors had been making strenuous efforts to gain recognition and acceptance as members of the established health care team. Secondly, it was clear that organized medicine the New Zealand was adamantly opposed to this on a variety of grounds which appeared logical and responsible. Thirdly, however, it became only too plain that the argument had been going on ever since chiropractic was developed as an individual discipline in the late 1800’s, and that in the years between then and now the debate had generated considerable more heat than light.

“By the end of the of the inquiry we found ourselves irresistibly and with complete unanimity drawn to the conclusion that modern chiropractic is a soundly-based and valuable branch of the health care in a specialized area…”

Specific conclusions of the Commission’s report, based on investigations in New Zealand, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia, were as follows:

  • Modern chiropractic is far from being an “unscientific cult”
  • Chiropractic is a branch of the healing arts specializing in the correction by spinal manual therapy of what chiropractors identify as biomechanical disorders of the spinal column. They carry out spinal diagnosis and therapy at a sophisticated and refined level.
    Chiropractors are the only health practitioners who are necessarily equipped by their education and training to carry out spinal manual therapy.
  • General medical practitioners and physiotherapists have no adequate training in spinal manual therapy, though a few have acquired skill in it subsequent to graduation.
  • Spinal manual therapy in the hands of a registered chiropractor is safe.
  • The education and training of a registered chiropractor are sufficient to enable him to determine whether… the patient should have medical care instead of or as well as chiropractic care.
    Spinal manual therapy can be effective in relieving musculo-skeletal symptoms such as back pain, and other symptoms known to respond to such therapy, such as migraine.
  • In a limited number of cases where there are organic and/or visceral symptoms, chiropractic treatment may provide relief, but this is unpredictable, and in such cases the patient should be under concurrent medical care if that is practicable.
  • Although the precise nature of the biomechanical dysfunction and… the precise reasons why spinal manual therapy provides relief have not yet been scientifically explained, chiropractors have reasonable grounds based on clinical evidence for their belief that symptoms of the kind described above can respond beneficially to spinal manual therapy.
  • In the public interest and in the interest of patients there must be no impediment to full professional cooperation between chiropractors and medical practitioners.

Subsequent to the New Zealand Inquiry, the Australian Federal Minister of Health requested that a Committee be formed to consider extending the scope of (government-funded) Medicare benefits for certain services, including chiropractic.

The Committee accepted all of the findings of the New Zealand commission, and also noted the “significant shift in the last decade in attitude … towards the issue of scientific research” in chiropractic. It also recommended funding for chiropractic in hospitals and other public institutions, and endorsed greater philosophical unity in chiropractic.

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