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The Integrator Blog. News, Reports and Networking for the Business, Education, Policy and Practice of Integrative Medicine, CAM and Integrated Health Care. - Regarding Quack-Buster Barrett, Chiropractor Sportelli and Covert AMA Papers
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Regarding Quack-Buster Barrett, Chiropractor Sportelli and Covert AMA Papers PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Weeks   

Regarding Quack-Buster Stephen Barrett, Chiropractic Leader Lou Sportelli and Covertly-Delivered AMA Papers

Summary: Newcomers to the integrated care field may be interested in two pieces of our history which were indirectly on display in a story in the Allentown Morning Call on June 13, 2007. The stories involve the American Medical Association and two individuals who lived in Allentown for decades: Stephen Barrett, MD, and Lou Sportelli, DC. The former is the anti-alternative medicine and anti-chiropractic, self-styled "quack-buster" whose semi-retirement and move from Allentown, Pennsylvania, stimulated the article in the Morning Call. The latter, quoted in the article, is a longtime chiropractic and integrated healthcare leader who for 35 years has frequently been Barrett's opponent in debates. Internal AMA documents which each of these men received have influenced the form and substance of our dialogue and efforts to appropriately integrate care ...
Send your comments to johnweeks@theintegratorblog,com
for inclusion in a future Your Comments article.

Stephen Barrett, MD
Early June brought news in the Allentown Morning Call that the anti-alternative medicine and anti-chiropractic self-styled quack-buster Stephen Barrett, MD, founder of Quackwatch, was moving from his base of Allentown, Pennsylvania. Barrett claims he's not retiring. He said he's taking his 6,000 books and 44 file cabinets with him, but does acknowledge he'll be cutting back.

Another longtime Allentown resident, Lou Sportelli, DC sent me the link to the story. Sportelli, who is president of the NCMIC Group, an Integrator sponsor, has many times taken the pro-chiropractic and pro-natural health care positions on panels in which others have paired him with Barrett. Sportelli is quoted in the Morning Call story: "This marks the end of a non-illustrious career. I shed no tear."


The delivery of both sets
of these AMA documents -
one set intentionally, the
other surreptitiously -
significantly influenced
the integrative health care
dialogue in the United States.

First, Some Sportelli Recollections of Barrett

I contacted Sportelli for some comments on his relationship with Barrett. Sportelli reflected on the years of their exchanges: "We maintained, over the years, at least a respectful relationship. He used to tell audiences:
'Dr. Sportelli is not really a chiropractor. He doesn't do what chiropractors do.  They just wind him up and send him out."

There is truth in Sportelli being atypical. From the beginning of his practice and leadership of his profession 45 years ago,
Sportelli has formed healthy relationships with medical specialists and urged members of his profession to do so. He has served for years on the board of trustee in a hospital in his local area - a hospital to which he was able to send patients for a blood tests, urinalysis or an x-ray even in the heyday of the campaign of the American Medical Association to stop professional relationships between medical doctors and chiropractic.

Lou Sportelli, DC
Yet clearly, Sportelli got his own licks in. He laughs as he recalls their exchanges: "
(Barrett) scoffed at the role of food and nutrition in health. I told him on numerous occasions that today's unorthodox procedures become tomorrow's standard of care. He opposed spinal manipulation and I'd always say: 'So then why do physical therapists and other disciplines want to have it in their scope?' He wasn't a man who wanted to change and irrespective of clear and compelling facts, his opinions rarely did. I likened him a member of the flat earth society."

Sportelli continued: "Thank God (Barrett) was the anti-chiropractic person. His demeanor and personality never lent itself to achieving much credibility, partiocularly when there was an opportunity for full debate."
Then Sportelli laughs: 'When I heard he was moving to North Carolina, near the Research Triangle, I thought, too bad. It would have made more sense had it been the Bermuda Triangle. In all honesty, I really feel sorry for Stephen Barrett. I reflect on what it would feel like to be opposed to nutrition, organic foods, chiropractic and other form of alternative medicine and have every one of your belief systems evaporate before your very eyes in the enlightenment of the 21st century and compelling research to document the value and benefits of these approaches.

He adds: "Here is a man who spent his whole life climbing the anti-chiropractic and anti-whatever ladder only to find it against the wrong wall. The world has simply passed him by and he is locked into a time warp that will not permit the light of information and the evidence of efficacy to enter into his world. To me that is a sad moment for anyone to have wasted so much time and effort on a cause that was not in the public’s best interest.  My thought often reflected on 'how many patients did he prevent from seeking chiropractic care, taking nutritional products or seeking alternatives to their current mode of treatment.'  That would haunt me."

A Tale of AMA Documents #1:  Barrett's Access to the AMA's Anti-Quackery Files

Reflecting on the careers of these two men who co-habited the same Pennsylvania town, I recalled that while they were adversaries, they had something special in common. Each of them had documents from inside the American Medical Association covertly shared with them. The delivery of both sets of these AMA documents - one set intentionally, the other surreptitiously - significantly influenced the integrative medicine dialogue in the United States.

The Barrett story runs something like this. In 1963, the AMA established a Committee on Quackery which chiefly targeted the chiropractic profession. In 1975, the Committee was disbanded. But this happened only after Barrett had started the Lehigh Valley Council Against Health Fraud. Barrett was, according to author P.J. Lisa and others, given access to all of the AMA' anti-quackery and anti-chiropractic files. The AMA now had an external group to carry it's campaign against chiropractic and other natural health care. Many of the CAM-oriented investigators of the AMA-Barrett relationship believe that copies of the AMA's files are quite likely part of the 44 file cabinets Barrett plans to move to his new home in North Carolina. 

Barrett's later became a founding board member of the National Council Against Health Fraud, started by William Jarvis, PhD. Whether Barrett merely gained access to the AMA's files or had them delivered to his office wholesale may be in dispute. What is not in dispute is that from 1970 until the present, Barrett  has continued to lambaste virtually everything non-allopathic.While his influence has declined, there was a decades-long period when most media accounts of natural health care of any kind were accompanied by quotes from Barrett, Jarvis, or one of their two other self-appointed anti-quackery colleagues, John Renner, MD and Victor Herbert, MD, JD. Barrett told the Allentown Morning Call that he plans to stay at it from his new home.

A Tale of AMA Documents #2: The "Sore Throat" Documents Stimulates an Anti-Trust Lawsuit Against the AMA

Maybe should keep a better eye on itself
Sportelli's relationship to covert documents from inside the AMA had an opposite origin and opposite impact on dialogue in the United States. In his case, an individual inside the AMA, upset with AMA's pattern of repressive behavior, secretly copied numerous documents and had them mailed to a limited number of individuals in the chiropractic profession. Sportelli was one of them. Arguably, the first real opening of the integration exchange in the United States began when these individuals received these bundles in in (1978).

The packet Sportelli received documented what Barrett likely already knew, given his close relationship with organized medicine: the AMA had an ongoing campaign to boycott chiropractic. These documents led to a decade-long anti-trust battle which the chiropractic profession waged against the AMA. Known as Wilk et al vs. AMA, the ultimate finding
from U.S. District Court Judge Susan Getzendanner was that:
" (the AMA had engaged in) "a lengthy, systematic, successful and unlawful boycott" designed to restrict cooperation between MDs and chiropractors in order to eliminate the profession of chiropractic as a competitor in the U.S. health care system."
The court decision required the AMA to cease fire. They could no longer work to maintain an utter segregation between conventional medicine and chiropractic. The message was the same for AMA actions relative to other emerging disciplines such as acupuncture and Oriental medicine, naturopathic medicine and massage therapy. A little turf was opened to allow some exchange.

Sportelli speaks of a "feeling of liberation" that came to him and others on learning of the information in the covertly mailed document, and then through "the magnificent discovery and trial and undertaken so brilliantly by attorney George McAndrews" as the reality of what was happening truly sunk in:
"No longer would the chiropractic profession have to be embarrassed or denied access to legitimate facilities for their patients. No long would the profession have to wonder why the health care glass ceiling could never be broken. After the lawsuit, the Barretts of the world became insignificant because the truth indeed set the profession and all of alternative health care free in this country."
It was into this legally-mandated shift in culture, this forced door opening, that David Eisenberg, MD and his team at Harvard University Medical School delivered his data in early 1993 on the consumer use of unconventional medicine. Our present dialogue, traumatized in the womb, began.

Comment: To count Barrett out of the picture now is quite likely, like the too-early report of the death of Mark Twain, an exaggeration. Yet one can take comfort that, to the extent that paradigms shift when the old die, Barrett's awfully polarizing voice, disrespectful to science even as he sold himself as science's defender, will be less heard. Meantime, when we think of how challenging the last 15 years of integration activity have been, it may be useful to note that, somewhere in Allentown, this dialogue had a shotgun birth.

Send your comments to johnweeks@theintegratorblog,com
for inclusion in a future Your Comments article.
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