Health freedom

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The term health freedom is generally used to describe the concept of people being free to choose for themselves the type of healthcare therapies and healthcare maintenance that they wish to use to benefit their health. In addition, the term is also used to describe the concept of practitioners and healthcare providers being free to offer whatever types of therapies they wish. The limiting factors influencing the degree to which health freedom exists are many and varied, and include legislation, lobbying of politicians and legislators by powerful corporations in competing industries (such as pharmaceutical companies) as well as by associated or allied trade organizations, media bias, and resistance by the orthodox medical establishment.

The health-freedom movement

Campaigners for health freedom use the term the "health-freedom movement" to describe the loose coalition of individuals and organizations around the world who are pushing for increased freedom of choice in healthcare. There is general agreement amongst such campaigners that the practice of medicine has become constrained by monopoly interests and profit, to the detriment of health and freedom of choice. Although the concept of health freedom does not preclude the practice of allopathic medicine per se, campaigners generally tend to have strong preferences for orthomolecular/naturopathic/alternative medicine [1] [2], and a strong distrust of the pharmaceutical industry. [3] [4] In recent years, the movement has increasingly been expanding its focus to include opposition to water fluoridation [5], mandatory vaccination [6], and the use of pesticides [7], herbicides [8] and food additives [9]. Generally speaking, the health-freedom movement favors organic food[10] [11] and is against genetically modified food. [12]

There is no formal structure to the health-freedom movement, although cooperation and coordination among some of the various organizations and individuals involved in it does occur. [13] [14] To a certain extent, however, the development of closer links between organizations has been hampered by the belief that "controlled opposition groups" exist [15], and that the purpose of such groups is to assist the pharmaceutical industry by recommending grass roots actions that appear plausible on the surface to the poorly informed but which, upon closer inspection, fail to hold up to careful scrutiny. [16] Some factions of the movement believe that the lack of a formal structure is one of the movement’s strengths, however, in that this prevents it from being taken over and controlled by individuals or groups with aims that are contrary to those of the movement at large.

A key objective in the health-freedom movement is for people to have unrestricted access to vitamins and other food supplements. The basis for this objective is the large and growing amount of scientific evidence that chronic diseases can be largely prevented, and even cured, using micronutrients [17], and that regular ingestion of above-RDA levels of some vitamins and minerals confers optimum health and increased longevity. [18] [19] Because of this, the health-freedom movement has close links to the life-extension movement. [20]


The near-unanimous enactment into law of the widely-supported Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) [21] in the United States (US) in 1994 is perhaps the most prominent example of a piece of pro-health-freedom legislation, and is often cited by health-freedom campaigners as being a key event in the history of health freedom. DSHEA defines supplements as foods, and puts the onus on the United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prove that a supplement poses significant or unreasonable risk of harm rather than on the manufacturer to prove the supplement’s safety.

In recent years, however, the legislative trend worldwide has been more towards reducing freedom of choice in healthcare, rather than increasing it. Restrictive European Union (EU) laws such as the Food Supplements Directive [22], the Human Medicinal Products (Pharmaceuticals)Directive [23], the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive [24], the Fortified Foods Directive [25] and the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation [26], for example, currently seem increasingly likely to reduce access to food supplements and natural health information throughout the entire EU population, now comprised of 450 million people in 25 countries.

The influence of Codex on health freedom

A key focus of the health-freedom movement in recent years has been the activities of the Codex Alimentarius Commission [27], which it perceives to be acting in the interests of the pharmaceutical industry. [28] [29] Sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the Codex Alimentarius Commission develops standards and guidelines for foods, including food supplements.

Whilst the adoption by countries of the various standards and guidelines developed by Codex is theoretically optional, the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on 1 January 1995 essentially changed their international status, in that they are now increasingly used as the benchmark in the adjudication of international trade disputes. [30] As such, the potential threat of becoming involved in, and losing, such a dispute now effectively makes the adoption of Codex guidelines and standards mandatory, in that it leaves countries little or no option but to harmonize to Codex standards.

The Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Food Supplements [31], for example, were adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission as a new global standard at its meeting in Rome in July 2005, with the pro-health-freedom nonprofit organization the National Health Federation as the sole voice raised in opposition at that meeting. [32] Drafted using the restrictive EU Food Supplements as a blueprint, many health-freedom organizations believe that the eventual effect of these Guidelines will be to remove large numbers of the most effective forms of nutrients from the global market, set restrictive upper limits on the dosages of all permitted nutrients, and prevent the sale of all supplements for curative, preventative or therapeutic purposes without a doctor’s prescription. [33] [34] [35] As a result, there is a general belief in the health-freedom movement that Codex is seeking to ensure that the sale of curative, preventative, and therapeutic health products remains the exclusive province of the pharmaceutical industry. Other Codex texts, such as those affecting health claims, organic foods, genetically modified foods, labeling, and advertising are similarly opposed by health-freedom organizations [36] [37] [38], who argue that the Commission puts trade interests before human health.

The influence of regional harmonization on health freedom

A number of health-freedom organizations are currently concerned that the increasing tendency for countries to form large, so-called free trade areas and trade blocs threatens their freedom of choice in healthcare, in that these further increase the pressure upon countries to harmonize their food and supplement laws to the standards and guidelines set by Codex. [39] [40] [41] As such, there has been a certain degree of convergence between the health-freedom movement and the anti-globalization movement in recent years in that some health-freedom organizations now openly oppose the domination of current global trade agreements and trade-governing bodies such as the World Trade Organization by powerful corporations, and include such opposition as a major part of their campaigning activities. [42]

The influence of the pharmaceutical industry on health freedom

Naturally occurring forms of nutrients and herbs cannot be patented. Given their safety and effectiveness in the prevention and treatment of disease, and also their growing popularity, nutritional supplements arguably represent a serious and growing threat to the multi-trillion dollar pharmaceutical industry, the profitability of which depends upon the sale of patented synthetic drugs. Many health-freedom campaigners therefore perceive the pharmaceutical industry as having a clear and vested interest in supplements being regulated as restrictively as possible. Some go even further than this, however, and believe that the pharmaceutical industry has a vested interest in the continuation and expansion of diseases, rather than their cure, in that without the current widespread existence of diseases the industry would cease to exist in its current form. Because of this, they argue that the majority of pharmaceutical drugs only treat the symptoms of diseases rather than their root causes. [43]

See also

External links

Health freedom organizations, websites and campaigners

For further reading

Health freedom films