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Acupuncturist fights for recognition

Court bars Kim from practicing despite large following, experience

The Oriental medical field is abuzz over whether to acknowledge Gudang, the pen name of Kim Nam-su, as a medical practitioner.

Is the widely hailed acupuncturist who is not acknowledged by the orthodox circle a persecuted guru or a conman endangering people’s lives?

While the Association of Korean Oriental Medicine vows to take Kim to court for his “illegal practice of medicine,” the 96-year-old is calling the incident a turf war, pledging 4,000 of his disciples to rally his said.
Kim Nam-su
Kim Nam-su

The battle is expected to take place soon as Kim was indicted in June for making 14.3 billion won profit between 2000 and 2010 by practicing or training acupuncture and moxibustion. His institute, Tmsarang, has issued illegal certificates to thousands of people, a group of Oriental medical doctors who filed the complaints against him said.

Kim was certified as an acupuncturist in 1983 by an administrative court when his then 57-year experience in the field and former acupuncturist certificate issued by the Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945) was accepted. But he has not managed to win authorization for moxibustion and training.

Currently, only Oriental medical doctors graduated from related medical schools have the exclusive right to perform the practice. Yet around 4,000 people are claimed to have been taught by Kim’s institute, though their qualifications do not have any legal bearing. Though the Constitutional Court last year ruled against people practicing “quasi-medical activities,” Kim, backed by powerful supporters, said he would continue in his job.

Some top notch politicians, business moguls and celebrities including the late actress Chang Jin-young, who relied on Kim’s therapy as the last resort to her stomach cancer but died in 2009, have built public awareness. Kim also held pro bono practices at the National Assembly until very recently.

“This is a clear tug of war. Acupuncture and moxibustion should be accessible to anyone interested. It is safe and easy. We also train the students thoroughly,” an insider of Tmsarang said. Kim is currently residing overseas and was not available for the comment.

The organization is campaigning to legalize acupuncture and moxibustion as individual professional categories.

“We are consulting with our lawyers on ways to win back Kim’s honor at the court,” he said, adding that people who have received or witnessed Kim’s practice voluntarily come to learn from him.

“You don’t get that often with other Oriental medical doctors,” he said.

The AKOM is now making efforts to prove Kim’s illegitimacy.

Doubts have been cast over practices held by unauthorized technicians after an acupuncture needle pierced former President Roh Tae-woo’s lung in May, administered by a practitioner that many believe to be a student of Kim.

“Acupuncture and moxibustion are means of medicine, which need to be carefully managed, monitored and controlled. We should also remember that many of Kim’s and his students’ patients claim to have side effects,” said Han Jin-woo, PR executive of the group. He accused Kim and Tmsarang for taking 2.6 million won per student to train illegal technicians.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare, in charge of the management of medical techniques and methods, repeated its principle. “Currently, Kim’s training and certifying other people is clearly out of the legal boundary,” a ministry official said. “But it is a tough issue since health is the priority of so many people and sick people would do anything to be healed. Kim is in the middle of this grey area,” he added.

By Bae Ji-sook (