The Canadian Medical Association Needs A Priority Adjustment

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is the national organization that advocates for the interest of physicians in Canada. They also publish the well regarded Canadian Medical Association Journal. The CMA has a vocal public advocacy function and routinely speaks out on different public health issues and the sustainability of medicare. Recently they have been in the news speaking out against the Province of Ontario lifting its ban on Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) competitions.  Does the CMA really think we don’t know MMA is dangerous?

The CMA Says This Is Dangerous (Thanks CMA!)

It doesn’t take a medical degree to know that when someone enters the octagon, there’s a pretty good chance that they’re going to get hurt. It’s not clear what CMA is trying to accomplish by calling for the banning of MMA and others similar combat sports (they also want boxing banned). With these events, the fighters entering the ring have seen other matches, are highly trained, and are almost certainly aware of the risks. Why would the CMA speak out about MMA, when there’s lots of meaningful advocacy it could be doing to demonstrably improve the health of Canadians?

If the CMA truly wanted to make a genuine improvement in Canadian’s health, they could start by discussing the growing popularity of alternative health practices like acupuncture, chiropractic, chelation therapy, or even homeopathy. An evidence-based evaluation of the merits of these practices would be a welcome addition in a country that is increasingly embracing these practices.  And let’s be clear about the risks here:  From the impossible to the improbable to the unproven, these practices lack evidence of benefit, may have the potential to directly harm, and could lead people to seek out ineffective treatments instead of scientific ones. Unlike MMA, alternative medicine directly involves millions of Canadian consumers – and unlike the fighters of MMA, many people that use these controversial treatments do not even know that there are risks.

One only needs to spend a few minutes perusing the tragic cases catalogued in the medical section of the website to see what the risks of alternative medicine can lead to.

While the CMA is protesting MMA, the Japan Medical Association (the JMA) has joined with other Japanese physicians and scientists to call out homeopathy. The CMA have already stated that they are in favour of evidence based medical treatments. All they need to do now is be brave enough to join with the JMA and call out specific treatments as unscientific. The CMA’s silence on these controversial treatments is deafening.

6 Responses to “The Canadian Medical Association Needs A Priority Adjustment”

  1. Great great post, I wish I thought of doing it myself when I heard about the CMA protesting MMA. I don’t know how issues like Homeopathy can be tip toed around and continue to cause harm to the un-consented, while MMA can be fought about on medical grounds.

    The two issues aren’t even in the same ballpark and yet this is what the CMA comes out against. It is inspiring to see that the JMA has taken a stand agianst homeopathy and I hope we can import that trend to Canada.

  2. BrianE says:

    I think the CMA’s objection to MMA is actualy spot on considering the objectives of the CMA. There’s just no possible way the CMA can either promote MMA or stand idly by with out saying anything. I would suggest that it would be unethical of the CMA to not say anything at the very least. They know that fighting causes bodily injury and their goals are to reduce injury to all citizens of Canada.

    Is it right for the Ontario government to base their decision on MMA events only on the recomendation of the CMA? No.

    Is it ethical of the CMA to object to the government allowing events that have proven negative medical outcomes for the participants? Yes.

    Despite the CMA’s objections to MMA fighting will Canadian doctors be required by the hypocratic oath to treat people injured during MMA fights? Yes.

    The doctors of the CMA will step up and treat any injuries occured during MMA events, but they don’t have to sit there quietly and not voice their objections.

  3. I don’t think anyone is saying that the CMA shouldn’t have an opinion on the issue. You are taking that line of thinking far too far. All that is being argued is that there are much greater issues at hand to be dealt with that are ignored.

    It is fine the the CMA has the medical opinion that MMA isn’t safe, but the athletes consent to what is going on and at most there are dozens or perhaps a few hundred that willingly engage in MMA. This isn’t a real problem, it’s a news story. I’m willing to bet more people get killed/injured skiing, snowboarding or sliding down hill, but the CMA doesn’t have to come out agianst those activities.

    There are activities of a small personal risk that a person can reasonably accept, and sliding down hill, or engaging in MMA are along those lines.

    There is a far greater problem in the misinformation and understanding that people have of things like Homeopathy. People can’t consent to this type of treatment if they are being deceived and misinformed about the risk and potential outcomes. There is real harm being done to unaware people.

    So while the CMA doesn’t have to be criticized for having an opinion on MMA’s safety, it is fine and acceptable to criticize them on the basis of their priorities and that’s what this article was about. Instead of worrying about the minority of people who accept the risk of what they are doing, wouldn’t it instead be better to come out against a problem that effects more people and who can’t consent due to misinformation?

  4. Conventional, alternative or complementary is as per see.

    A person who prefers, let’s say homeopathic medicine, as a first line of treatment, conventional medicine is an complementary/alternative for him/her.

    Likewise a person who took conventional medicine as first line of treatment, other forms of treatment are complementary/alternative.

  5. Ian Monteith says:

    MMA fighters go into matches likely with a far greater appreciation of the risks than most medical practitioners. Over the short history of MMA, more and more restrictions have been imposed to ensure the safety of combatants: e.g. blows to the base of the skull; other exist as unspoken agreements: e.g. one rarely sees heel locks nor are other holds used against knees, which are particularly vulnerable.

    If the goal is to protect the health of the public, regulations aimed at curbing over consumption of animal-derived fats, sugar and high-glycemic-index simple carbohydrates would yield results that dwarf those from the CMA proposed restrictions.


  • Jonathan Abrams

    Jonathan Abrams is the latest founder and president of the Ottawa Skeptics. He organizes local events, makes media appearances as the token skeptic, and is one of the website maintainers. He is the host of the skepticism podcast The Reality Check. When he’s not thinking about science and skepticism, he’s working as a computer engineer, playing pinball, or doing the dishes.