Crane v. Johnson, 242 U.S. 339 (1917)

2012-06-08 11:27:39

This case stems from a statute California enacted to regulate the field of medicine. The statute created a board of medical examiners to prescribe a specific course of study, administer an examination, and issue licenses for those practicing medicine. The statute defined ‘‘medicine’’ broadly to encompass traditional medicine, such as surgery and prescription drugs, and nontraditional medicine, such as chiropractics and faith-based healing. Drugless practitioners who healed with prayer were exempt from the statutory requirements, whereas other nontraditional practitioners were not.

For the past seven years, the plaintiff in this case practiced nontraditional, faith-based medicine in Los Angeles, California. His practice used faith, hope, mental suggestion, and mental adaptation. The plaintiff challenged the enforcement of the statute against him on the basis of its distinction between drugless practitioners and prayer healers. He claimed that the state was incompetent to make such a distinction. He also alleged that the statute violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, because the classification among drugless practitioners did not relate to a legitimate purpose.

The Court held that the statute was enforceable. The distinction between drugless practitioners and prayer practitioners was rooted in a legitimate basis and was therefore not arbitrary. According to the Court, the basis of the state’s distinction came from the fact that the state considered the plaintiff’s medical practice to be that of drugless medicine. His medical practice required skills that could be enhanced through practice and specialized knowledge. Alternately, the Court considered the practice of prayer-based medicine to be akin to the practice of religion, an area that could not be constitutionally regulated by the state.

The precedent established in this case has since permeated the regulation of alternative medicine throughout the country. States are now creating more stringent standards for nontraditional medical practitioners. They are mandating these practitioners to attain state certifications prior to claiming to practice medicine, and they are becoming stricter in their enforcement of noncompliance with these statutory requirements.


References and Further Reading

  • Cohen, Michael H., Healing at the Borderland of Medicine and Religion: Regulating Potential Abuse of Authority by Spiritual Healers, Journal of Law and Religion 18 (2002- 2003): 373–426.
  • Kallmyer, J. Brad, A Chimera In Every Sense: Standard of Care for Physicians Practicing Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Indiana Health Law Review 2 (2005): 225–265.
  • Noah, Lars, Ambivalent Commitments to Federalism in Controlling the Practice of Medicine, Kansas Law Review 53 (2004): 149–193.
  • Silverman, Ross D., Regulating Medical Practice in the Cyber Age: Issues and Challenges for State Medical Boards, American Journal of Law and Medicine 26 (2000): 255–276.
  • Smalley, Ruth Ellen, Will a Lawsuit a Day Keep the Cyberdocs Away? Modern Theories of Malpractice as Applied to Cybermedicine, Richmond Journal of Law and Technology 7 (Winter 2001): 29–56.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Truax v. Raich, 239 US 33 (1915) West’s Ann. Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code } 2100