Pennsylvania Attorney General
Targets Chiropractic Ad Claims (1973)

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

In March 1973, the Pennsylvania Bureau of Consumer Protection asked Commonwealth Court to stop three mid-state chiropractors from placing newspaper ads that the Bureau asserted were false and misleading.

  • Brian D. Ehrhart, D.C., of York, Pennsylvania, had advertised that (a) only chiropractic corrects the cause of poor health, (b) drugs change how you feel while you are dying, and (c) chiropractic is the one thing that you need to get well and live again.

  • John N. Pikulin, D.C., of New Cumberland had advertised that (a) the only way the cause of your so-called gastritis, ulcers, indigestion, or stomach nervousness will be healed is to adjust the spine and release the interference to the nerve and (b)) pain is a warning sign that you need a spinal examination."

  • James M. Sigafoose, D.C., of Thomasville had advertised that (a) medical men can stop pain pronto by shots, pills and potions, (b) stopping the pain does not stop the problem-interference, and (c) the only patients that don't respond are the ones that haven't followed the requirements that are necessary to regain total health the natural way. The ad is shown to the right.

In separate complaints, the Bureau charged that the ads improperly disparaged medical doctors and other chiropractors and suggested that only a chiropractor could make or keep a person healthy. " [1]

In April 1973, a hearing was held that included testimony by the Pennsylvania Governor's personal physician and three members of the state chiropractic board who agreed that challenged statements were false [2].

 

Ehrhart, Pikulin, and Sigafoose also testified in their defense. Each of them said that the statements in the ads were part of their overall attempt to explain chiropractic and its philosophy to the public. When the Bureau attorney asked about specific claims, they gave evasive answers and asserted that some of their words had special meaning to chiropractors.

When Ehrhart was asked about his statements about drug treatment, he replied:

The ad says, "Of course you're still sick. Only chiropractic corrects the cause of poor health. Drugs change how you feel about dying." . . . Drugs do change how you feel while you are dying and we mean again that they alter physiology and they only alter it. They in no way normalize it. There is no drug that has anything to do with health, meaning body homeostasis, body functioning physiologically perfect. They alter symptoms, change how you feel, which is changing the symptoms while you're dying of the basic underlying cause which chiropractic says, and I say, is always this lack of life or lack of nerve force or intelligence flowing over the nervous system. This is the basic underlying cause of all disease, period. So the drugs alter the symptom, only changing how you feel while you are dying from this lack of life that we speak of coursing over the nervous system.

When asked whether he could cite any scientific studies that establish that drugs are unable to cure or prevent ailments, Ehrhart replied: "I doubt that you would find that in a society that bases its entire opinion on health on drug usage."

When Pikulin was asked whether he could cite any studies that showed that spinal adjustment or relief of "nerve interference" would heal gastritis, ulcers, indigestion, or stomach nervousness, he replied, "Not offhand."

Sigafoose testified:

The intent of the ad is, number one, to allow people to know that there is something different than the drudgery of being prescribed to multicolored pills and shots to control their system and it is not necessary for the symptoms to be controlled until the time becomes necessary that crisis therapy has to be introduced, which is surgery after the effect has allowed to go on to the degree that the body is now in jeopardy or life and the body is now in jeopardy. I would also like you have you understand that this ad is to tell people that that there is a different way, that there is a choice, and certainly they could have that choice. And I would also like to have you understand that in the process of this complaint, . . . I am charged with disparaging the medical doctor. At no time in this ad or any other ad I have placed is anything that disparages the medical doctor per se. His commodity which is the drug I might be disparaging against, but the individual, no.

During his testimony, and Sigafoose mentioned that he had "adjusted" 593 patients in one day, but this point was not relevant to the ads.

Two days after the hearing, the Court granted temporary injunctions that barred all of the challenged claims [3]. Ehrhart, Pikulin, and Sigafoose responded with a joint statement which said that they were "appalled at the shocking lack of sensitivity of the court" to their First Amendment right of free speech. They also claimed that hundreds of people had helped after learning about chiropractic through their ads and that no one had been harmed [4]. The chiropractors appealed the decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court but dropped their appeal shortly before the Bureau's response was due.

In April 1975, the Bureau announced that it had negotiated settlements under which the chiropractors (a) admitted no wrongdoing, (b) agreed that the injunctions would be permanent, (c) were permitted to use medical journal and other authoritative reporting agencies to advise against the danger of drug overuse and the adverse effects of immunizations, and (d) were permitted to offer free x-rays and report office fee schedules in their advertisements [5].

It is not clear whether the proceedings had any significant effect on how chiropractors advertised in Pennsylvania. In its first press release, the Bureau's stated that it was "preparing guidelines for chiropractic advertising with support of several recognized chiropractic organizations" in Pennsylvania. I suggested several [6], but no guidelines were ever issued and chiropractors throughout the state continued to make false and misleading claims [7-9].

References

  1. News release. Office of the Pennsylvania Attorney General, March 21, 1973.
  2. Hearing on application for preliminary injection. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania vs. J.N. Sigafoose, Brian D. Ehrhart, and John N. Pikulin. Commonwealth Dockets No. 349, 350, and 351, April 24, 1973.
  3. News release. Office of the Pennsylvania Attorney General, April 30, 1973.
  4. Sprague B. Three chiropractors ordered to halt newspaper ads. Bethlehem Globe-Times, April 28, 1973.
  5. News release. Office of the Pennsylvania Attorney General, April 22, 1975.
  6. Barrett S. Suggested guidelines for chiropractic ads. Letter to Joel Weisberg, Jan 9, 1973.
  7. Ads by Pennsylvania chiropractors, 1974
  8. Ads by Pennsylvania chiropractors, 1975
  9. Ads by Pennsylvania chiropractors, 1977

This article was revised on February 17, 2018.

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