Apothecary

The defining of medicine and the role of homeopathy in modern healing

June 22, 2022
Richard Pitt Richard Pitt in Research

The origin of homeopathy and 18th Century medicine

Homeopathic medicine came to light at the end of the 18th century, through the work of Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician, chemist and scholar. He practiced medicine for a number of years in what is now Germany, but gave up his medical practice because of its ineffectiveness. Much of medicine then consisted of blood-letting (the extraction of blood by cutting a vein or using leeches), based on the notion that most diseases were due to too much blood; or by the use of strong toxic substances such as mercury compounds, that often left the patient in a state of profound anemia. Medicine as we know it today only began to exist in the 20th century, and especially after the 1930’s when the use of sulpha drugs and then antibiotics became commonplace.

Hahnemann became a medical translator to support his family and he translated a thesis by a Scottish physician named Cullen, who was exploring the healing ability of quinine in the treatment of malaria. Hahnemann was not convinced of Cullen’s theory – in which he attributed quinine’s success to its astringent qualities – and decided to take a small dose of quinine himself to see what it would do. Strangely, it produced symptoms similar to the disease of malaria. After further research in taking small doses of natural substances himself, his family and with the aid of friends and fellow physicians who also took part in the experiments, he formulated the theory behind homeopathic medicine – that of Like Cures Like. This states that a substance that can create certain symptoms in a healthy person will cure similar symptoms in a person who is sick.

Hahnemann documented his work in a book entitled “The Organon of the Medical Art”, first published in 1810, and leading to 5 further editions. As a result of this medical breakthrough Hahnemann began to practice medicine based on this principle and through his work, and also his teaching at a Medical institution in Leipzig, he began to attract the interest of other physicians. Within 20 years, homeopathy had spread to the rest of Europe and then was brought to the United States by 1830. The first homeopathic medical school was established in 1833 in Allentown, Pennsylvania and the first medical association in the United States was formed in 1844, called the American Institute of Homeopathy (AIH). Three years later, another medical association was created, the American Medical Association (AMA), partly from the perceived threat they felt from this new form of medicine that was influencing physicians. Homeopathy quickly spread to most other states, with homeopathic medical boards and medical schools being established. The Hahnemann Medical School in Philadelphia still carries the name of the founder of homeopathy, and in Washington DC, a statue to Hahnemann is in a prominent square near the White House, the only statue to a physician and also to a non-citizen in the capital and one of the only statues to a non-military person.

For the remainder of the 19th century homeopathic medicine was practiced widely, along with other forms of medical practice, including the traditional allopathic form (what is now today seen as “conventional” medicine), and a variety of eclectic and indigenous forms of healing. Homeopathy was by far the most popular and established of the alternatives and vied with allopathic medicine for the very definition of what medical practice should be.

The rise and fall of Homeopathy

The success of homeopathy was clearly documented, first in Europe in the 1820’s and 1830’s during cholera and typhoid epidemics, as well as in the United States during the deadly flu pandemic of 1918, where statistics showed that homeopaths had a death rate of only 1.05%, in comparison with over 30% under allopathic care, and even up to 60% at times. (1) In the first World War, there was a homeopathic medical corps, staffed by 100 nurses, 22 physicians and two dentists, nearly all homeopaths. In 1922, President Harding, whose father served as a homeopathic physician in the Civil War, hosted a convention of homeopaths at the White House.

However, in spite of its proven success and its rapid inclusion into the medical practice of thousands of physicians homeopathic medicine had a profound decline in its use after the 1920s. For about 50 years, homeopathy was kept alive in the United States by a small number of practicing homeopathic physicians and a larger group of lay people who were committed to homeopathy and using it for themselves and their families. It is only since the 1970s that its use has increased again, both within and outside of medical practice. The reasons for homeopathy’s decline in the early 1900s is interesting and can be instrumental in understanding the dynamics within medicine today and the future of therapies such as homeopathy and other forms of natural/holistic health-care.

The change of fortune for homeopathy was due to both philosophical and political reasons. Homeopathy and allopathic (conventional) medicine have always been at philosophical loggerheads. Samuel Hahnemann was an intense critic of the barbarism passed off (in his opinion) as conventional medicine. From blood-letting (which purportedly killed President Washington) to toxic compounds of drugs, to primitive surgery, he never let up in his criticism, and his writings lambast at the ignorance and malfecience of conventional physicians. This tendency was continued by his followers and fellow medical practitioners, who were converts to this new system of thinking.

To the remainder of the medical population, homeopaths became virtual apostates and were privately and publicly shunned. Everything was attempted to quash homeopathic medicine from the scope of medical practice and a struggle ensued for the very soul of medicine. By the turn of the 20th century, the political struggle began to be won by the conventional school. The developing pharmaceutical organizations - evolving from the earlier apothecaries and small pharmacies - became more organized and obviously supported the allopathic doctors who were dispensing their medicine. Also, in spite of the clarity of the homeopathic method – applying the Law of Similars as a mechanism of cure, homeopaths often squabbled amongst themselves and didn’t achieve a methodological consistency throughout their profession. Conventional medicine, even though rather simplistic and barbaric, was supported by the evolution of the biological sciences and the materialistic perspective on the human organism.

Medical kit

The Flexner Report and the defining of medical education

The other major factor was the Flexner Report of 1910. Abraham Flexner was commissioned by the Carnegie Foundation – with the support of the American Medical Association – to report on the education of doctors in the United States. By this time, the state of American medicine was very chaotic. Medical schools of all sorts were springing up, the regulatory mechanisms through licensure were very haphazard and in some states non-existent (the legality of such licensing boards often being challenged in courts as being antithetical to freedom of choice and basic constitutional rights). Schools could simply train doctors and send them on their way without much assessment of their competency. The economic turf war between various medical modalities was intense. The United States had more than four times the doctors per capita than Germany (2), and various medical sects vied with one another for legitimacy and success. Homeopathy was only one of these. Chiropractors, Osteopaths, Eclectics, Hydropaths, Naturopaths, Herbalists were all striving in the market place and competing with the developing dominant ideology of drug based medicine.

The evolution of drug based medicine saw a great transformation between 1850 and the early 20th century. Oliver Wendell Holmes, addressing the Massachusetts Medical Society in 1860, made the famous remark that if all drugs could be sent to the bottom of the sea, “it would be better for mankind and all the worse for the fish.” (3) By the turn of the 20th century, however, modern science was beginning to take shape, and greater attention spent on laboratory techniques and their connection to clinical outcomes. Abraham Flexner was a supporter of this movement and the results of his report reflected his views. His views may have been further enhanced by the fact that an AMA representative traveled with him on many of his trips to medical schools. (4) However, he had ample material to work with. He traveled for months to many medical schools of all types, interviewing deans, inspecting classrooms and laboratories. In many instances, he was appalled by what he found. At the Georgia College of Eclectic Medicine and Surgery he reached the conclusion that “nothing more disgraceful calling itself a medical school can be found anywhere.” (5) He also stated that medical education in general was “sordid, hideous, un-intelligent even where honest.” And there is so little “that is even honest”, he said (6). The results of his research were published in a report called Medical Education in the United States and Canada. He didn’t mince words in his report, and as a result received anonymous letters that he would be shot if he set foot in Chicago, was threatened with lawsuits, and was sued for libel for $150,000. (7)

Although he strove to be objective in his analysis of medical schools, whatever their particular philosophy and method of practice, the result of Flexner’s report had much more impact on the sectarian or alternative medical schools than that of the orthodox (allopathic) schools. Homeopathic schools shrank in number from twenty two at the outset of the century to two in 1923. (8). However, many regular medical schools were affected too and in Chicago (“a plague spot of the country in respect to medical education”, according to Flexner), fifteen medical schools were consolidated to three. Within two decades, the number of medical schools had been halved. (9). While some of what happened can be seen in the public and the medical profession’s interest, one other result was the consolidation of medical practice clearly within the philosophy of medical materialism, with its emphasis on drug-based therapy. It also consolidated Flexner’s own opinions on medical practice and his strong convictions on the authority of the idea of “scientific medicine.”

Whatever the original intent of Flexner, his funders and supporters in the Carnegie Foundation and the AMA, the result was a consolidation of power within one group of medical practitioners. It laid the foundation for the evolution of economic control of medical practice in North America to be in the hands of pharmaceutical organizations and certain medical bodies, especially the AMA. It also limited the types of people who practiced medicine, and limited access of poorer people to physicians. Leo Galland, in his 1997 book The Four Pillars of Healing, stated that the Flexner Report “succeeded in increasing the social and intellectual homogeneity of the medical profession, driving out the lower classes and the immigrants, reducing the number of blacks and women, and, initially, of Jews.” (10).

For the homeopathic profession and other similar professions – including Osteopathy, Chiropractic, Naturopathy and others, the Flexner report was seen as the machination of one form of medical treatment seeking dominance over others and today it is still viewed with suspicion. Harris Coulter, a homeopathic historian who wrote a three-volume study on the history of Medicine including Divided Legacy: The Conflict Between Homeopathy and the American Medical Association wrote “The finding of the Flexner Report, and the ongoing evaluation of medical schools by the American Medical Association, were soon accepted by state examining boards which decided to bar the examination of graduates of schools receiving a low rating – regardless of the candidate’s own knowledge or proficiency. The refusal of examining boards to admit the graduates of schools which the AMA held in disfavor was the death-knell for these schools, and in this way the AMA acquired a whip hand over the whole medical education system, not only allopathic, but homeopathic and eclectic as well, a power which it had been seeking for decades.” (11)

Decades after the Flexner Report, the AMA attempted to destroy the Chiropractic profession, under its Committee on Quackery, which eventually was stopped when the Chiropractors sued the AMA, and the case was resolved in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Research laboratory

The power of modern medicine and the defining of the scientific myth

The evolution of medicine during the remainder of the 20th century saw the consolidation of medical materialism under the broader banner of “Modern Science”, with some striking and successful advances in medical knowledge and practice. The advent of antibiotics in the 1940s and 1950s was perhaps the most dramatic of these advances, but other pillars of modern medicine – including vaccination, diagnostic techniques, some surgeries, drug therapies such as diabetic treatment, modern anti-depressants and other drugs for emotional and mental disorders have been held up as crucial developments in modern medical care. Most significantly however, modern medicine was able to capture the public imagination; most people believed in its authority and cultural value system, based on the symbolic power of “man” to overcome the adversities of a malign natural world. This power has been most fervently believed in the United States. Since the 1950s, the pioneering “rocket to the moon” ebullience of the people was invested heavily in the belief of modern science and medicine to find a solution to society’s most intractable problems. Adopting a quasi-martial terminology and declaring war on a slew of diseases only further fueled this pioneering spirit in medicine, sometimes with dramatic results, while at other times throwing away vast resources on a more complex situation than medicine can hope to solve – the war on cancer being a prime example. The belief in the scientific purity of modern medicine has been especially important given that it justified criticism of other medical modalities even though its own authority is not based on such solid ground (In 1983, the U.S. office of Technology concluded that of all allopathic medical techniques and therapies on the market, only about one in five was actually backed by scientific evidence.) (12)

Given all these factors, one would imagine that alternative/complementary forms of medical care would have fast faded into historical obscurity. But strangely enough, many forms of alternative/complementary medicine have seen a renaissance of interest in the last 30 years – homeopathy included. This interest has been partly fueled by the broader critiques of the “system” by those politicized in the 1960s–1980s, and also by the fact that in spite of many advances, modern medicine has not been able to give satisfactory answers to many acute and chronic health conditions. One of the most extraordinary dissents of the authority of modern medicine has come from sociologist Ivan Illitch, who in 1975 published Medical Nemesis. This book struck at the core of the machine by condemning medicine for causing more disease than it cured, creating a culture of iatrogenesis (drug induced disease) which he said had three levels – clinical, cultural and social. Medicine had become invested in itself, an elite branch of power that sought control and dominion over the lives of people and their bodies, from cradle to grave. Given the statistics we see today, with 1 in 10 children on drugs for ADD and most elderly people on a cocktail of drugs, Illitch’s position has only been further affirmed. The Journal of the American Medical Association reported in 2002 that 80% of adults in the United States now take some form of medication each week, with 50% taking a prescription drug. (13)

The holistic view and its implications for healing

Another reason that alternative/complementary forms of medicine and healing have prospered again is the re-evolution of a more holistic view of healing. People have begun to recognize again the body’s own healing power and are seeking a more complete view of the human being than the atomized view of materialistic medicine. Being seen as a human being seemed to make people feel better and less like a cog in a huge machine. Further, alternative therapies seemed to offer real relief for many conditions which drug therapy seemed both limited and potentially dangerous. Critics of the limits of modern medicine did not only come from those outside the mainstream, but a growing number of physicians joined the chorus of those recognizing that things had got totally out of control, Larry Dossey and Andrew Weil being just two.

One of the historical threads that many critics have discussed is a concept central to holistic thinking – an energy, power or force that somehow infuses the body and which is instrumental in the healing power of the body to maintain balance or homeostasis. Homeopaths have tended to call this “energy” the Vital Force, while acupuncturists use the term “Chi” and in Indian philosophy it is called “Prana” or breath. In the annals of western philosophy and science the concept of vitalism can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and their concepts such as a transcendent primordial mind (Nous) which set the material universe into motion and gave it form and order. Greek thinkers such as Socratoes, Plato, Pythagoras and Hippocrates struggled with the paradoxes of matter and spirit or essence and this dialectic continues until the present day, being expressed in philosophy, pyschology, medicine and other disciplines. In the realm of healing, terms such as anima, elan vital, vital force, vital principle, orgone energy, have been used to describe this phemomena and attempts to measure this energy field have often been attempted, from Kirlean photography to BioFeedback.

One of the most significant consequences of the scientific revolution in the last three centuries, seen as a crucial part of the Age of Enlightenment, has been the separation of God and Science. The scientific quest has sought to explain the material universe, to understand its workings and to use this knowledge for human development. Language has evolved to reflect this perspective and reference to concepts of God or any kind of universal energy, knowledge or consciousness are rarely found. However, in the language of holistic philosophy, the term God or other terms such as vital principle, chi, prana, consciousness etc., have always been used to reflect the philosophical view of these systems. The term God is mainly seen as an expression of “unseen” (and unknowable) consciousness or knowledge that permeates the universe and which maintains natural order. This view is reflected in the writings of Hahnemann and other homeopaths writings (especially in the 18th and 19th centuries). The word “vital force” is used often as an expression of a type of universal consciousness, as part of an energetic pulse or as the Greeks described it, a cosmic mind state (nous) that permeates the material world and maintains the material world in a state of dynamic equilibrium or homeostasis. Many other thinkers in other scientific and philosophical fields have explained a similar understanding from different perspectives. Rupert Sheldrake described a phenomena called morphogenetic fields in “A New Science of Life” in which he postulated an energetic thread linking various species together, beyond the capacity to be seen in time and space. James Lovelock described his Gaia theory in a book “Gaia, A New Look At The Earth”, explaining how he saw the planet Earth as a single organism, connected on all levels. His theories have since developed into what is called Earth System Science, partly in order to validate the scientific rationale of his theories. Many modern physicists have also come to similar conclusions with String Theory and holographic concepts, explored in books such as The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot and The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene.

Therefore we can now use the word God as a means to express a holistic consciousness – and not just the traditional Judaic/Christian almighty. We are now finding a new definition to recognize the implicit connectedness of all phenomena. However, in mainstream medicine, the language has still mainly been based on 19th century biology with an atomistic model of the world in which the fundamental interconnectedness of all things is only a passing thought, if that. It is important to recognize the roots of homeopathic thinking and how, today, there are many parallels in modern scientific and philosophical thinking that are confirming the original holistic ideas within homeopathy.

Acupuncture

The economic significance and scientific proof of alternative/complementary therapies

However, the reality is that in spite of the continuing philosophical divide between the holistic and materialistic medical models (the gap actually being closed more in theoretical physics and philosophy than in clinical practice), there is an economic dynamic that is forcing all sides to re-evaluate their relationship and to seek more common ground in dealing the complexities of our health needs in the 21st century. A study published by Harvard professor David Eisenberg in the New England Journal of Medicine, which surveyed the world of alternative and complementary therapies revealed some amazing facts. The paper demolished the notion that only poor, uneducated people used “unproven” medical treatments. Eisenberg estimated that around $13 billion was being spent on everything from acupuncture to yoga, more out-of-pocket money than people were spending on conventional health-care. (14)

One result of these changes has been a resurgence of interest in certain therapies and techniques within conventional medical protocol – the use of acupuncture for pain control being one example. This has led to the introduction of “integrative medicine” into medical curricula and more money given to research into various modalities, often through the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a branch of the more well-known National Institute of Health (NIH). Some of this motivation is purely economic – observing the hemorrhaging of dollars to alternative therapies as a threat to the economic dominance of traditional medicine. But it also woke up medicine to the possibilities of many therapies. Moreover, doctors realized that most patients/consumers are a lot less concerned about the proof criteria than found in traditional positions of medical authority. Of course, one of the quandaries has been attempting to validate many therapies according to traditional scientific techniques, the double-blind trial being the benchmark method used. One of the problems has been that the very nature of many alternative therapies. With the concept of a vital force and a holistic paradigm that embraces the uniqueness of each person, these types of therapies challenge attempts to control all variables and replication of events, important factors in conventional trials. Questions brought up by theorists in modern physics also challenge the very notion of the objective, dispassionate observer, recognizing that such separation of object and subject is not so easy, especially when dealing with such complex phenomena as human beings.

However, in spite of these hurdles, many attempts to scientifically verify the efficacy of many therapies have been successfully done, including homeopathic medicine. Homeopathy is one of the more challenging of therapies to accept because of the principles of the energetic dilution of substances which, according to homeopaths, leaves only an energetic imprint of the original substance, with no material remaining of the substance being given. This one fact alone regarding the nature of homeopathic remedies has been enough to dismiss homeopathy as a medical heresy of the worst kind, in spite of its being widely practiced by physicians on every continent and being establishment within the medical practices of many countries – India, Brazil, United Kingdom, Argentina and France being a few examples. However controversial the history of homeopathy has been in the annals of modern medicine, the accusation that it cannot be proven has been found to be untrue, the evidence of the efficacy of highly diluted substances challenging the foundation of conventional scientific belief. A French allopath and researcher, Jacques Benveniste, who had no convictions about homeopathy, published a paper on the effect of ultra-dilutions. He found that ultra-dilutions in excess of Avogadro’s number (the point at which no material substance remains) could consistently have the same effects as the original solute substance – but only if the dilution process was accompanied by vigorous agitation of the solution (similar to the homeopathic process of shaking the dilution – termed succussion.). He published his paper in the well-known British scientific journal, Nature, called “Human Basophil Degranulation Triggered by Very Dilute Antiserum Against IgE” (Benevista88), (15). In spite of the scientific rigor and statistical validity of his research, his conclusions caused a massive backlash and he was subjected to continued controversy and derision by skeptics, including the editors of Nature, who could not accept his results. Eventually he lost his research funding and laboratory and only in 2001 was he vindicated when another group of scientists backed up his original research. This was just one example of the double-standards often applied to alternative therapies. They are accused of not being proven therapies, yet when evidence does emerge, it is condemned and researchers are vilified when they produce the very evidence that critics say is missing. For many in alternative medicine, it confirms the belief that much of modern medicine is as much about an orthodox belief system as it is about scientific objectivity.

While it is true that there is by no means as much experimentation and evidence to confirm the validity of alternative therapies – often because hospitals, drug companies and government bodies are not willing to spend the time and money – much evidence does exist that prove the efficacy of homeopathy as well as other therapies. In a study published by Jennifer Jacobs MD in a 1994 issues of Pediatrics, she proved that childhood diarrhea in Nicaragua could be effectively treated by homeopathic remedies, and subsequent stool analysis showed that homeopathy was most effective when bacteria and viruses were found. She successfully replicated her diarrhea study with a second trial conducted in Nepal. (16). Given that childhood diarrhea is one of the most deadly diseases for children in developing countries, the fact that homeopathy has been proven effective should lead to much more interest than has taken place. One of the main reasons for this is the general lack of acceptance of homeopathy as a valid therapy within the realms of the medical elite and government bodies that work with medical institutions.

The legal structures of medical practices

Each form of alternative medicine has to find its own way to legitimacy within the regulatory frameworks that control the legality of many forms of healthcare. All physicians who graduate from medical school have to take a licensing board exam. At times, if they move to another state, physicians have to retake the state board exam again. Licensure is the most accepted way of defining legality, and the reason for it stems from the need to control and measure the skills of medical practitioners and therefore protect the consumer from the dangers of badly trained practitioners. Given the inherent dangers of drug based therapy and diagnostic and surgical techniques of physicians, effective licensure is necessary to regulate the medical profession. However, one result of the use of licensure as a method of regulation is that it serves to protect the legal and economic base of that profession. It can thus maintain the culture of knowledge and elitism within one group of people, disempowering ordinary people from making their own health-care choices. The consequence of this often leads to greater dependency on the “expert” – and consequent iatrogenic effects through too much drugs being given – even when licensure serves a need to protect the consumer.

Alternative therapies such as Acupuncture, Naturopathy and Chiropractic have also used licensure as a means to legitimize themselves. Given the fact that acupuncturists break the skin, chiropractors manipulate the body, and naturopaths give potentially strong herbs and also in some states can perform minor surgery, it can make sense to use licensure as a form of regulation. Licensure suits those therapies that are more intrinsically risky and dangerous to an unwitting public, but it is questionable whether it is the best model for many “natural” therapies. Licensure also acts to define the exclusive right for one group to practice their particular skill, leading to turf wars over who has the right to manipulate or massage the body or who has the right to practice naturopathic techniques such as giving herbs, nutritional advice, hydrotherapy etc. Most licensure bills seek to carve out as much territory as possible for the therapeutic system seeking regulation, and it is often the case that the real motive is to protect the economic base of the profession, not the protection of the consumer. In this situation, alternative therapies do exactly the same thing as conventional medical groups. In other words, they look after their own.

However, conventional medical statutes in most states are the worst in carving out a monopoly of all medical practices, defining medicine in the broadest way possible and then stating that only physicians can practice medicine. Therefore, most alternative therapies have to carve out their own domain of expertise outside of conventional medical practice. Otherwise, by default, it becomes part of medicine in general, even if doctors are not trained at all in that particular therapy, a Catch-22 situation for many alternative therapies not regulated through licensure.

Jurisprudence

Homeopathy – Between a rock and a hard place

Homeopathy has had a unique role in this situation, in that it was established within the scope of medicine in the 19th century, was practiced predominantly by physicians and therefore competed for the definition of medical practice. However, homeopathy is not taught to any level in any medical school in the United States today. Physicians and others have to find training in private schools or through apprenticeship. So homeopathy has found itself in a legal no-man’s land – historically seen as medicine, practiced by physicians, yet not recognized by mainstream medicine, having no separate regulatory body defining its legality. However, a growing number of homeopaths practice without a medical license. So, in theory they are breaking the law – the risk depending on the state and county in which they practice. There has always been a tradition of homeopathy being practiced outside of medical licensure, and in some countries, including England, Holland, Australia, New Zealand and parts of Scandinavia, the laws defining medical practice have been much more liberal and accepting of homeopathy and other alternative medicines. In general, they have implicitly defined medicine to only what is taught in medical schools and not ALL healing modalities. In the United States, the history of homeopathy and the legal definitions of medicine have made this more difficult, compounded by the fact that homeopathic remedies are controlled by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and defined as drugs, an act of Congress in 1938 establishing the manufacture and dispensing of homeopathic medicines in this way. This is in contrast to herbs and supplements which are defined as a food. One advantage however of this structure is that it maintains a strict quality control in the manufacture of homeopathic medicines, and also homeopathic medicines always have their Latin name, which is the same in every country in the world.

One alternative to licensure as a means to confer legitimacy to many alternative/complementary therapies in the United States has been through the Health Freedom Movement. This movement has been instrumental in passing legislation in a number of states, defining the right to practice of all non-dangerous therapies without any extensive government oversight. It established a basic common law right, similar to that found in England and other countries. Minnesota was the first state to pass such legislation in the last 10 years, and California and Rhode Island have since followed suit. Much of this momentum has come from the homeopathic community even though it has an impact on many alternative/complementary therapies. Since then, an active national movement has sprung up, and health freedom bills are being actively pursued in many other states. The issues being addressed by this movement are in questioning who has the right to heal and how much responsibility does the consumer/citizen take in their own health care choice? How much power should any one group have in determining this choice and how much should the government be involved in controlling and regulating medicine and healing in general.

This leads to a broader question of how medicine should be seen as part of the social fabric of modern society, and potentially to a reevaluation of our relationship to health and disease. Given the ever increasing specialization in medicine and its dominant position in defining our attitudes to our own health and the choices we therefore make, society at large is now finding itself in a challenging position. In spite of the extraordinary technological advances in medicine and the huge financial resources at its disposal, sickness continues unabated, and in some ways seems to worse today; the whole medical structure is cracking under the pressure.

The redefining of medicine

Disease, from a holistic view, is not something simply to be conquered, but to be understood and seen as a tool and mechanism for change; it is something to be accepted and ideally transcended, not to be suppressed by drugs (and in the process to become dependent on them). The culture of dependency and the medicalization of all aspects of life have had the effect to make medicine an addiction and a prop, not a liberating force toward greater health and freedom. This phenomenon is not an issue only to do with the type of medicine being practiced but the economic, political and institutional structures that now exist, whose main concern is the preservation of itself and the power in its own institutional authority. One can say the system is truly broken – like the human body itself – when it feeds off itself and the structure becomes more important than the original reasons for its creation in the first place. In the modern world, medicine has become a huge drain on the national economy, chronic disease seems to be growing, placing ever increasing demands on the system and it is becoming so expensive that it is literally bankrupting the country – and yet little is done, as the power structures are so entrenched. Even now, in November 2006 in the United States, in the wake of the Democrats winning back congress, heads of all the pharmaceutical companies are meeting to strategize how they can protect their profits in the face of a democratic congress wanting to negotiate the price of drugs through Medicare and Medical.

The challenge for alternative and complementary medicine is finding its appropriate place in the equation of the health care needs of the nation. What can it offer and how should people have access to it? As many more holistic therapies are both preventative as well as ideally curative – although some would say cure is still an allopathic term – it would make sense for them to be often used as a first line of medical and health intervention, before serious disease has developed, and at the same time once conventional medical diagnosis has done its part. However, the reality for many modern chronic diseases is that conventional diagnosis gives no real answers and treatment is questionable and often harmful. Many alternative therapies have better answers to the complexity of modern chronic disease than materialistic medicine can offer. The appropriate use of a variety of holistic therapies will lessen the tendency to need the services of conventional medicine and its crisis infused model of medicine. After all, if we are happier in our lives and feel better about ourselves both physically and emotionally, then we won’t need to see our doctor so much. The doctor will be less burdened and everyone saves money (apart from the drug companies). There will be less diagnostic procedures, which are often done to protect against legal threats, less unnecessary treatments for the same reasons, and all in all, there will be less done. Unfortunately, even in the midst of our current health care crisis, the argument is mainly over how medicine should be given, not how to prevent illness. Although the social value of having socialized medicine makes so much sense and would relieve both citizens and businesses from the exorbitant costs and risks of being sick in America, having access to free but dangerous and dependent-making drugs as a first response to a medical need will, in the end, achieve precious little. Instead we need to turn to affordable and effective systems of healing first that embrace a holistic value system. That is the challenge for the natural systems of healing who feel excluded from the equation and also for the medical and governmental elites that dictate much of the medical policy of the country. Leaving it to market forces is one option, but the playing field has been so manipulated over the years that it resembles more of a backroom swindle than it does an open discussion of the health care needs of the nation. However, as mentioned, the economic consequences of people choosing alternative therapies has already had an impact on the medical system, forcing a reevaluation of medical policy.

Of all the holistic therapies available, homeopathy is one with a proven track record in dealing with both acute and chronic diseases, including complex psychological conditions. In spite of its philosophical radicalness in the age of the dominant paradigm of materialistic science, homeopathy has much to offer. Its footprint on the planet is very light and it offers the possibility of a cheap, affordable, accessible medicine for all, both in developed and developing countries. Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine also fits into the category of an energetic form of medicine that addresses the body’s own energy imbalance, seeking a natural rebalancing of the energy of the body. Techniques that focus on the structure of the body, such as Chiropractic, Osteopathy and cranial/sacral work also can offer much. There are also many other bodywork techniques that work on the energy of the body, seeking to understand the imbalances of the body and mind in subtle yet profound ways and which can do much to avoid the more crude interventions of conventional medicine. Therapies such as Feldenkrais and Alexander Technique also seek to understand the structure and mechanics of the body in a holistic way. The use of herbs to treat all kinds of conditions has happened throughout the world for thousands of years and the knowledge of plant medicine is the foundation of many other forms of healing – conventional medicine included, as well as homeopathy and Traditional Chinese Medicine. The huge evolution of psychological therapies in the 20th century offers yet another important development in understanding the complexities of the human condition and how disease is not separate from the person experiencing it.

With all these therapeutic possibilities, the challenge is to know which one is appropriate for each situation a person is experiencing. Also, not all of them are always as holistic as they may purport to be, being influenced by a more mechanistic model of the human being so dominant in conventional medicine. The economic and political agendas of various forms of alternative therapies also thrust a dubious competitive dynamic into the situation as different systems carve out exclusive domains of practice, using licensure to define their domain of practice to the exclusion of others. Creating the appropriate legal structures that protect both the consumer and the practitioner is important in helping the optimal evolution of various holistic systems and also helping create a truly more integrative model of healing that sees the appropriateness of ALL valid therapies. In so doing, there has to be a willingness to challenge the established economic interests of medical and business elites whose agenda is primarily the preservation of their own power and who use the government to maintain this power. This imbalance has to be addressed so that more holistic therapies are given the opportunity to be available to the whole of society and in so doing may just be able to solve the creaking, sinking ship that is modern medicine today.

References

  1. Perko, Sandra, The Homeopathic Treatment of Influenza: Surviving Influenza Epidemics and Pandemics Past, Present, and Future with Homeopathy, Benchmark Homeopathic Publications, San Antonio, Texas (1999).

  2. Brown, Chip, Afterwards You’re a Genius, Faith, Medicine, and the Metaphysics of Healing, Riverhead Books, (Penguin Putnam Inc), New York, (1998) P. 30

  3. Ibid, P. 30.

  4. Ibid, P. 31

  5. Ibid, P. 31

  6. Ibid, P. 32,

  7. Ibid, P. 32

  8. Ibid, P. 33

  9. Ibid, P. 33

  10. Ibid, P. 33

  11. Lansky A. Impossible Cure, The Promise of Homeopathy, R.L. Ranch Press 2003. P 8.

  12. Brown, Afterwards You’re a Genius, P 36.

  13. Lansky, Impossible Cure, P 14

  14. Brown, Afterwards You’re a Genius, P 47

  15. Lansky, Impossible Cure, P 189

  16. Ibid, 174

Further reading

Dossey, Larry, Reinventing Medicine.

Illitch, Ivan, A Medical Nemesis.

Dubos, Rene, A Mirage of Health.

Robbins, John, Reclaiming Our Health

Hahnemann, Samuel, Organon of the Medical Art.

Lansky, Amy, Impossible Cure

Brown, Chip, Afterwards You’re A Genius

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