Looking back at the lawsuit that transformed the chiropractic profession part 2: Rise of the American Medical Association

J Chiropr Educ. 2021 Sep 1;35(S1):25-44. doi: 10.7899/JCE-21-23.


OBJECTIVE: This paper is the second in a series that explores the historical events surrounding the Wilk v American Medical Association (AMA) lawsuit in which the plaintiffs argued that the AMA, the American Hospital Association, and other medical specialty societies violated anti-trust law by restraining chiropractors’ business practices. The purpose of this paper is to provide a brief review of the history of how the AMA rose to dominate health care in the United States, and within this social context, how the chiropractic profession fought to survive in the first half of the 20th century.

METHODS: This historical research study used a phenomenological approach to qualitative inquiry into the conflict between regular medicine and chiropractic and the events before, during, and after a legal dispute at the time of modernization of the chiropractic profession. Our methods included obtaining primary and secondary data sources. The final narrative recount was developed into 8 papers following a successive timeline. This paper is the second of the series that explores the growth of medicine and the chiropractic profession.

RESULTS: The AMA’s code of ethics established in 1847 continued to direct organized medicine’s actions to exclude other health professions. During the early 1900s, the AMA established itself as “regular medicine.” They labeled other types of medicine and health care professions, such as chiropractic, as “irregulars” claiming that they were cultists and quacks. In addition to the rise in power of the AMA, a report written by Abraham Flexner helped to solidify the AMA’s control over health care. Chiropractic as a profession was emerging and developing in practice, education, and science. The few resources available to chiropractors were used to defend their profession against attacks from organized medicine and to secure legislation to legalize the practice of chiropractic. After years of struggle, the last state in the US legalized chiropractic 79 years after the birth of the profession.

CONCLUSION: In the first part of the 20th century, the AMA was amassing power as chiropractic was just emerging as a profession. Events such as publication of Flexner’s report and development of the medical basic science laws helped to entrench the AMA’s monopoly on health care. The health care environment shaped how chiropractic grew as a profession. Chiropractic practice, education, and science were challenged by trying to develop outside of the medical establishment. These events added to the tensions between the professions that ultimately resulted in the Wilk v AMA lawsuit.

PMID:34544158 | DOI:10.7899/JCE-21-23

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