Complementary vs western medicine – both have a role in universities
The formation of modern medicine in the mid-19th century was itself the result of a century long fight for legitimacy among many contending groups. At that time, those who won out – the physicians, the surgeons and those who prepared and sold medicines – had no more evidence to support them than those they defeated. They succeeded on the basis of politics, not of evidence.
Since then, western medicine has grown into a key social institution supported by an elaborate scientific infrastructure. But the battle to defend its status, authority and access to wealth continues unabated.
On the one hand, doctors and their professional organisations are engaged in regular disputes with government about the control of fees and budgets, disciplinary practices and accreditation and the extent of their decision-making power. On the other hand, there is a persistent need to defend the boundaries against opposing forms of health care – so-called “complementary” medicine. The latter haven’t died out, despite the undisputed success of medicine. Indeed, estimates show that in most developed countries, including Australia, about half the population regularly use health practices outside the mainstream.