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History of Homeopathic Medicine

Posted on 8th June 2023

This article is a reflection on the long history of homeopathic medicine, a medical system based with a rich history and profound philosophical basis

Throwing Baby Out with the Bathwater – the hazard or either/or thinking

History of Medicine. Baby in the bathwater.  Homeopathy tossed out like bathwater is lost to history?
© Can Stock Photo – anitapatterson

Back to the future?

The rich history of homeopathic medicine is interesting. It seems to me that we are rather good at throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  Something new comes along and out with the old, lock stock and barrel. 

One example that I find interesting is the arrival of the supermarket.  I recall as a child ‘Safeway’ (an American company)  opening a store in the suburb of Glasgow where I was born.  The store, so modest by modern standards, precipitated the demise of the grocers’ shop with its relatively limited stock, yet personal service and even home delivery. 

Let’s be fair the new world had much to commend it: light, airy, enticing aisles of shelves and shopping trolleys.  It was a revolution, and as revolutions do, it swept away the past.  Fast forward and this modest affair would be replaced by larger ‘sooper-dooper’ hyper-markets and out of town malls as we continued to adopt the latest trends from our cousins across the ‘pond’.  

Then quite recently something strange happened, these same major supermarket companies started to open local stores and provide a home delivery service; a ‘back to the future’ moment. 

We tend to ‘rip up the tracks’ a little too enthusiastically.  Reflect on the not dissimilar story of the rise of the motor car and demise of public transportation (Dr Beeching etc.).  Or the over enthusiastic demolition of parts of our cities in favour of new-builds, which rather too often turnout to be rather a disappointment to the communities displaced by the new order.

Revolutions are dramatic. However, often the end result is a new problem.  The solution may be a ‘back to the future’ moment.

I rather favour evolutionary progress, a spiral movement that appreciates both the new and that which preceded it.  

Not ‘Either / Or’ but ‘Both / And’.

Common theme

What on earth has this to do with the history of homeopathic medicine, the title of this article?  The answer is that it is a similar story.  Mankind has been around for millennia, in sickness and in health.  What we now take to be orthodox medicine, (Allopathy or western scientific medicine), was anything but orthodox to our illustrious forebears. Folk have been getting sick (and recovering) for millenia.

The ability to synthesise drugs is very recent. It was only in 1897 that the German chemical company first synthesised Aspirin.  That was just over 125 years ago. The well known antibiotic Penicillin only came into common use in the years immediately after the second world war. You can read about Sir Alexander Flemings discovery here and here.  A medical revolution – that of chemotherapy (I use the term in its widest sense), the ‘magic bullet’ – had begun.

The seeds of this revolution originate some decades earlier. So how did this come about?

The History of Homeopathy and Modern Western Medicine

Modern Scientific Western Medicine (sometimes known as Allopathy) has its origins most notably in the the USA.  Scottish-American industrialist Andrew Carnegie made a vast fortune from iron and steel production. In his later years became a major philanthropist, establishing the Carnegie Foundation (‘for the advancement of teaching’) at the beginning of the 20th century. 

An academic, Abraham Flexner, whose studies influenced higher education in North America came to the attention of the Carnegie Foundation who in turn commissioned Flexner to evaluate the state of medical education.  The result was an radical overhaul of medical education, influenced by the emerging medical science of bacteriology by such notables as Pasteur and Koch.  The upshot was the concentration of medical education in relatively few schools, often famous to this day (e.g. John Hopkins), many of which were subsequently funded by foundations such as those of Carnegie and Rockerfeller (J.D Rockefeller, oil magnate).  There is no denying the improved academic standards and the establishment of medicine as a lucrative and well respected profession.  

What is not to like?

From Either / Or to Both / And

Over dominance of one approach has to diminish another.  Either / Or thinking means that there has to be a winner. The winner in this occasion was the scientific-reductionist approach which seeks out the smallest entities in its striving for answers.  From cells to nuclei to DNA and beyond.   From the naked eye, to the microscope, electron microscope and beyond.

The major industrialist benefactors surely understood the scientific model. Human beings are just sophisticated chemical factories.  It all made sense.

A century on, the charitable foundations created by the techology giants, such as the Gates Foundation see things according to their ethos (e.g artificial intelligence and transhumanism).  

But we are not (just) machines but  living conscious beings. We are a mixture of both the material and the immaterial (or spiritual).   

I found it interesting to discover that aspects of Flexner’s recommendations were ignored, particularly in the areas of humanities and ethics.

Other approaches to medicine appreciate a life force that animates us; a life force which out of balance can also lead to disease.  I have written on this before. Millions of people across the globe use these medical models and have for many centuries. Often underpinned by Eastern philosophies.

Contrast the ‘Either / Or’ with that of ‘Both / And’. 

None can deny the advances in medicine in the last 100 years.  But what has been forgotten? 

What happened when the lukewarm bathwater of 19th century medical education was tossed out?  I suggest that there were twins in the bath. One was nurtured whilst the second was neglected.   Especially so in the western world (and the to the greatest exent in the USA and UK). 

It is time to redress the injustice.

History of Homeopathic Medicine – Calcutta and Washington D.C.

India is well versed in western scientific medicine (hence the large number of India doctors who serve the NHS). However, the Indian government supports two branches of health care. One broadly follows the western scientific model, whilst the second, called AYUSH, overseas five traditional forms of medicine.

The ‘H’ is homoeopathy.  Dr Samuel Hahnemann who set down the principles of homoeopathic medicine is a familiar name in India.  Here is a bust in his honour at the Calcutta Homeopathic Hospital.

Curiously slap bang in the centre of Washington DC there is a huge monument to the same man (the first monument erected in memory of a citizen of foreign origin) yet his teachings are all but forgotten in that land.  How strange. You can find a picture of the impressive monument at the bottom of my earlier blog here.

To conclude this article, I quote the late Dr Foubister, latterly consultant physician at the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital:

Some years ago Dr Priestman and I had the opportunity to treat some hundreds of cases of pneumonia in the Children’s Ward. We had between forty and fifty admissions each year of primary pneumonia. A few had had penicillin before they were admitted, and in some we used penicillin, but over 90 percent were treated soley by homeopathy. In moribund cases penicillin was given as well as homeopathy, the first to damp down infection and in the second in an attempt to raise resistance. Oxygen was of course administered on the usual clinical indications. [he continues…..] No claim has been made that homeopathy is capable of curing everything. Hahnemann himself taught that it would be absurd not to use treatment other than homeopathy when conditions warranted it, including surgery, which he advocated even in its crude state at that time (early 19th century).

Dr Donald Foubister, Tutorials on Homeopathy (p6/7), Beaconsfield Publishers (1989)

A nice example of Both / And!

society of Homeopaths

Disclaimer: I am a qualified professional homeopath and not a medical doctor. The NHS has many resources, and seeking the opinion of your GP is always of value.

© 2024 Allan Pollock