State risk discourse and the regulatory preservation of traditional medicine knowledge: The case of acupuncture in Ontario, Canada

Soc Sci Med. 2016 Dec:170:97-105. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2016.08.037. Epub 2016 Aug 24.


Several United Nations bodies have advised countries to actively preserve Traditional Medicine (TM) knowledge and prevent its misappropriation in regulatory structures. To help advance decision-making around this complex regulatory issue, we examine the relationship between risk discourse, epistemology and policy. This study presents a critical, postcolonial analysis of divergent risk discourses elaborated in two contrasting Ontario (Canada) government reports preceding that jurisdiction's regulation of acupuncture, the world's most widely practised TM therapy. The earlier (1996) report, produced when Ontario's regulatory lobby was largely comprised of Chinese medicine practitioners, presents a risk discourse inclusive of biomedical and TM knowledge claims, emphasizing the principle of regulatory 'equity' as well as historical and sociocultural considerations. Reflecting the interests of an increasingly biomedical practitioner lobby, the later (2001) report uses implicit discursive means to exclusively privilege Western scientific perspectives on risk. This report's policy recommendations, we argue, suggest misappropriation of TM knowledge. We advise regulators to consider equitable adaptations to existing policy structures, and to explicitly include TM evidentiary perspectives in their pre-regulatory assessments.

Keywords: Acupuncture; Discourse analysis; Postcolonial; Regulation; Risk; Traditional medicine.

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy / methods
  • Acupuncture Therapy / trends*
  • Cultural Characteristics
  • Humans
  • Legislation as Topic / trends*
  • Medicine, Traditional / methods
  • Medicine, Traditional / trends*
  • Ontario
  • Social Control, Formal / methods*