A federal judge in Brazil has ruled that chiropractic is a profession, not a technique, and that physical therapist authorities should cease efforts to declare chiropractic a specialty of physiotherapy. The ruling, issued by Judge Diana Brunstein on March 3, 2009, is the latest in a series of events pitting the Brazilian Chiropractors' Association (ABQ) and its less than 400 members against the PT profession and its national authority, COFFITO, which boasts more than 90,000 members.
In her ruling, Judge Brunstein said: "[C]hiropractic is a health care profession concerned with the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of conditions of the neuro-musculo-skeletal system and its effects on the general health. There is an emphasis on manual techniques, including the adjustment and/or the articular manipulation, with a particular focus on subluxations. ... It is not a technique, but a profession, and this is exactly the reason for its exclusion of the scope of supervision of the petitioned authority." She added: "In the case of chiropractic, no law in existence [in Brazil] legislates on its practice and there is no illegality in attempting to obtain approval for practice of this profession at the national congress, with the very purpose standards or practice."
For several years, the ABQ has been promoting legislation to regulate chiropractic in Brazil, which remains without legislative protection; COFFITO's response has been to claim chiropractic is merely a specialty of physiotherapy, not a distinct profession. In fact, in 2007, weekend courses started up (with the support of COFFITO) that provided a certificate in "chiropractic" to PTs after as few as 100 to 300 hours. Graduates of these courses formed the Brazilian Physical Therapists Chiropractic Association, hoping to legalize chiropractic as a specialty of physiotherapy.
In response, the ABQ formed an independent legislative commission coordinated by Dr. Sira Borges, former association president, and featuring representation from each state in Brazil. The World Federation of Chiropractic (WFC) initiated a fund-raising campaign on behalf of the ABQ and the commission in 2007, soliciting donations from member associations and associate members. In the first year alone, donations exceeded $120,000.
Things heated up in June 2008 when a team of chiropractors from Palmer College of Chiropractic's Clinics Abroad program was unceremoniously detained by federal police, who had received a "complaint" from the local branch of COFFITO. Following an explanation and Visa check at police headquarters, the chiropractors - who were in Florianopolis, Santa Catarina, offering humanitarian chiropractic care - were released.
In July 2008, the ABQ was successful in getting an injunction filed against Physion, an organization whose "chiropractic teachers" were operating weekend chiropractic courses for PTs. Process servers armed with the injunction halted a weekend course getting underway at the Novo Hamburgo Business Hotel in Rio Grande do Sul.
One month later, PTs in Sao Paolo began harassing chiropractors, pressuring them to sign declarations acknowledging they (the DCs) were in fact practicing physical therapy illegally, and to cease such practice. The ABQ came to the rescue, getting an interim injunction filed to stop the harassment. CREFITO, the local PT regulatory body in Sao Paolo, appealed to have the injunction removed, but it was confirmed by Judge Brunstein in her March 3, 2009 ruling.
"We still have a long fight ahead," said Dr. Juliana Piva, ABQ president, following the judge's ruling. "But this judgment gives us powerful new momentum as we work with legislators in Brazilia for chiropractic legislation."