Some Notes on Sherman Cohn, J.D., LL.B., LL.M.

Stephen Barrett, M.D.
January 15, 2005

In February 2003, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) announced that it was assembling a committee to identify major scientific and policy issues in “complementary and alternative medicine” (“CAM”) research, regulation, training, credentialing and “integration with conventional medicine.” As part of this process, it posted the names of 15 appointees and asked for public comment about their suitability. I replied by challenging nine of the proposed members. Here are IOM’s biographical sketch of Sherman Cohn and the comments I submitted. After the comment period ended, he was dropped from the proposed committee.

IOM Description (February 2003): Sherman Cohn has been a professor at Georgetown Law Center since 1965. He specializes in the fields of civil procedure, professional responsibility and legal issues of alternative and complementary medicine. Before joining the Law Center faculty, he served as a clerk for Judge Charles Fahy of the D.C. Circuit and in the Appellate Section of the Civil Division of the Department of Justice. He is a member of the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia bars and is also a member of the American Law Institute, the American Judicature Society, and the Society of American Law Teachers. He served for eleven years as the first national president of the American Inns of Court. He is a member of the Charles Fahy American Inn. He served as the Administrator of Preview of U.S. Supreme Court Cases from 1976-79 and as Director of Continuing Legal Education at the Law Center from 1977-84. From 1982-93, he served as chair of the National Accreditation Commission for Schools and Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. From 1998 to 2002 he was President of the Jewish Law Association. Professor Cohn has also served as the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Tai Hsuan Foundation, and is presently a member of the Board of Overseers of the Traditional Acupuncture Institute, the National Acupuncture Foundation, Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Alliance, and is on the Board of Visitors of John Marshall Law School.
My Comments (Posted on February 23, 2003)
  • “Oriental medicine,” often referred to as “traditional Chinese medicine (TCM),” encompasses a vast array of folk medical practices based on mysticism. It holds that the body’s vital energy (chi or qi) circulates through channels (“meridians”) that have branches connected to bodily organs and functions. Illness is attributed to imbalance or interruption of chi. The diagnostic process used by TCM practitioners may include questioning (medical history, lifestyle), observations (skin, tongue, color), listening (breathing sounds), and pulse-taking (claimed to determine which meridians are “deficient” in chi). Treatment with acupuncture and herbs is claimed to “restore balance.”
  • These concepts are not based on the body of basic knowledge related to health, disease, and health care that has been widely accepted by the scientific community. Moreover the scope and quality of acupuncture education do not prepare most practitioners to make adequate diagnoses and provide appropriate treatment.
  • The Traditional Acupuncture Institute makes the following claims about its services:

Traditional acupuncture, proven effective over thousands of years, is directed toward good health, vitality, balance, longevity, and alleviation of stress. . . .

If you have any chronic symptoms or illnesses, whether physical, mental or emotional in nature;
If your daily activities place great demands on your vitality and well-being;
If you can imagine being healthier, more balanced, more vital than you are now;
If you are committed to improving the quality of life…

Our treatment centres can serve you

  • I do not believe that a leader of any organization built on a mountain of nonsense — or that makes sweeping promises that it can’t keep — should be asked for advice about research priorities, how to train practitioners, or “integration” into medical education.

Overview of IOM “CAM” Committee

This article was revised on January 15, 2005.