Film Review: Doctored

<i>Doctored</i>, as the title implies, blames doctors for America&#8217;s failed healthcare system.
Reviews

Doctored is a documentary about the chiropractic profession primarily, and the American Medical Association’s longstanding opposition to it. Chronicling the suits and countersuits filed by the AMA and a group of chiropractors (beginning with Milk v. AMA in 1973), director Bobby Sheehan leaves the impression that the final outcome legitimized chiropractics. Actually, the lawsuits were filed and resolved under federal antitrust legislation. The judge found evidence that the AMA and some healthcare providers were guilty of restraining “trade,” of trying to put chiropractors out of business; her 1987 decision ended their campaign. Having sufficiently demonized doctors, Sheehan then blames them, rather disingenuously, for the unwillingness of health insurers to pay for alternative cures.

Less than 30 percent of the nation’s physicians are members of the AMA, so the organization’s views can hardly be said to represent the medical community. Healthcare providers’ policies with regard to which procedures or treatments will be covered are decided by actuarial formulas, not by doctors or the standards of medical practice. Blaming the AMA, and physicians who harbor prejudicial views of alternative medicine, for what ails the American healthcare system, as Sheehan does here, is as simplistic as believing that what will repair it are chiropractors and enlightened doctors who embrace alternative therapies. As other documentaries on this subject point out, including the upcoming Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare (from Roadside Attractions), the fault lies with lawmakers who have failed to reform profit-oriented insurers and pharmaceutical companies.

Sheehan will succeed with TV viewers accustomed to ripped-from-the-headlines “journalism”; in fact, Doctored opens with a 1980s broadcast of “The David Susskind Show.” Aired when alternative therapy generally referred to chiropractic intervention, the program pitted a sneering doctor against a composed and articulate chiropractor. Through a mix of archival footage and interviews with doctors, chiropractors and their patients—sometimes in ineffective, staged conversations—Doctored, as its title implies, appears to put Western medicine on trial. Employing conspiratorial thinking rather than thoughtful commentary, in the end the documentary is actually little more than a deftly edited commercial for the chiropractic profession.

Sheehan gets some candid interviews with doctors in which they admit to unholy alliances with drug companies, and failures in Western medical practice that compel patients to seek alternative therapies, but these startling disclosures are edited to within an inch of apprehension, undermined by the film’s proselytizing. Ironically, the most effective criticism of America’s healthcare system comes from doctors, not from the self-aggrandizing chiropractors. Doctored offers no fix for the problems it identifies, beyond a visit to your local chiropractor.