Soapbox - Guest column

Is complementary medicine shackled by a nanny state?

By Michial Coldwell

- Last updated on GMT

Is complementary medicine shackled by a nanny state?

Related tags Regulation Medicine

There is still an Australian self-view involving reckless abandon, a laissez-faire approach to rules and an attitude toward life that involves doing what we want, when we want. Ours is a land where personal choice rules, we believe.

I wonder if this is really true.

Michial Coldwell iPad
Michial Coldwell, general manager of Amway Australia and New Zealand

Heaven forbid we seriously examine whether or not we are an overly protected—snot-nosed even—population of whingers dependent on government and regulators for protection while we simultaneously make them the target of our disingenuous derision and discontent.

The term “nanny state” gets trotted out fairly regularly these days, usually in an attempt to undermine an opposing political agenda. 

Anyway, what is a nanny state? 

Unsurprisingly, it’sa term of British origin that conveys a view that a government or its policies are overprotective or interfering unduly with personal choice. It likens government to the role that a nanny has in child rearing.

So, is that what we are?

The main issue is not so much whether​ nanny state is legitimate, but rather when​ it is legitimate.

The tension between rules intended to protect us and our right to choose for ourselves will always exist. Those of us who are parents have lived with such tension through each day our children’s lives (most of us still do, even though our sons have now become big and hairy). 

I still vividly remember the winter months running interference with my toddler daughter. We had a slow-combustion wood heater which my daughter quickly learned that we did not want her to touch, though she was still determined to do so.

Once, she even succeeded in her mission. I tried to stop her but by the time I reached her the tears had already started. Fortunately, she wasn’t burned badly. She was still at an age where a combination of cold water, strategically placed band aids and cuddles from mum made everything better.

So what’s all this got to do with complementary medicines? Not much, but like most parents I always enjoy the opportunity to talk about my kids. More seriously, in a round-about way, I’m drawing an analogy between parenthood and government. 

Of course all of us as parents want to spare our children pain or stress in learning the lessons of their lives. But, just as some parents become overprotective and shield their children from the very experiences that help them develop and grow to maturity, so too can government and regulators become too enthusiastic in limiting our choices in the interests of our own “wellbeing”. 

Like a good parent, government should always seek to protect its citizens from obvious dangers (tobacco, drunk drivers, criminal activities etc.). But, like any good parent government should also understand that grown children have a right to make their own choices, learn their own lessons and stretch their own boundaries. 

The extension of overprotective thinking is that we end up living in a restricted and increasingly diminished world, denied the opportunities for rich experiences and, at a less personal level, to stretch the boundaries of our knowledge.

While it’s perfectly reasonable that the complementary medicines industry should be subject to regulation, as it already is, it is not reasonable that we should have imposed on us the same rules that apply to higher-risk, high-involvement pharma products. 

All of our products use ingredients that are approved by the TGA. Our industry has a proud record of innovation, quality and compliance. Nonetheless, compared to some other wealthy countries, we are heavily regulated. The argument therefore for even greater regulation is distracting and erroneous. 

So, back to the nanny state, are we or aren’t we? 

Well, the prominent Canadian journalist Tyler Brûlé argues that we are, naming us the world’s dumbest nation. 

There will be a collapse of common sense here if health and safety wins out on every single discussion​," he says. 

I think he goes a little far. It’s just a plain waste of resources and an unreasonable imposition upon our industry to seek to regulate for its own sake.  

For us there is no “red hot heater” from which we need protection.

  • Michial Coldwell is general manager of Amway Australia and New Zealand, part of a $US 10.8bn global company that has been in business for over 50 years. Michial is also a recent board member of Complementary Medicines Australia and is chairman of the Direct Selling Association of Australia.

Related topics Policy Oceania Food safety Supplements

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1 comment

Blame the nanny state for hindering sales of products with no proven health value?

Posted by Alastair,

The State should be there to protect its citizens from the myriad of threats that they face, including false marketing. This is not the 'nanny state', it is the state doing what it is supposed to do. If you're peddling products that claim or imply that they will improve health, and yet you cannot back this up using the scientific norms required for such claims, then you shouldn't be selling your product.
And if you really do believe that consumers would be better off having unregulated access to your product, what's to stop Amway using some of its $10.8 billion to support some basic R&D to support the claims, just like pharma and food have to?

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