10 November 2005

"Disease" in Homeopathy vs. Allopathy

Hahnemann writes quite disparingly (and entertainingly) of the "calamatious art" of "allopathy". He coined this term for the standard academic form of medicine practiced in the Western world during his lifetime, 1755-1843. He write that the goal of "allopathic" medicine is to supress symptoms with medicines that oppose them. This is in contrast to "homeopathy", which treats disease with medicines which would create symptoms similar to those a particular disease in a healthy individual. Hahnemann faults "allopaths" for losing site of the goal of "curing" the patient in their quest to intellectually understand the cause of the disease, and for failing to see that superficial symptoms as the result of an underlying process. He characterizes the allopathic conception of disease as a wholly material one which fails to grasp and adress underlying dynamic processes.

It is easy to share Hahnemann's disgust with the crude medical techniques of his time such as bloodletting and the use of hazardous substances such as mercury in high concentrations. It is problematic, however, to operate under the assumption that medicine has not evolved over the past 150 years and to therefore generalize Hahnemann's descriptions of "allopathic" medicine to conventional medicine as practiced today. As a fairly recently trained and practicing MD, while some of Hahnemann's descriptions strike a familiar note, it is difficult for me to see medicine in such a black and white way. I'm not sure that "allopathy" as described by Hahnemann actually exists today in practice. The most striking similarity for me is medicine's preoccupation with describing disease processes intellectually and sometimes losing site of the goal of curing the patient.

Hahnemann describes disease as a (aphorism #s in parentheses) a "spirit-like force" (16) which works through a "morbific agent inimical to life" (11) "disturbing" (8), "mistuning" (10) and causing the life force to "suffer" (7). A disease "disturbs health (4), leads to "irregular functioning and symptoms (11), and prevents the "rational spirit" from using the self "as an instrument to achieve higher purpose of existence (9). Diseases are "not separate from the living whole"(13). They do not have "absolute power", but only affect individuals who are "exactly and sufficiently disposed ...to be assailed (31) In addition, they are weaker than properly chosen and diluted homeopathic medicines(27).

Some of what Hahnemann describes as techniques of the physician such as "removing obstacles to recovery" (3) and taking into account, "constitution, character, occupation, lifestyle, relationships, age, activities" (5) are not the sole providence of homeopathy. Good lifestyle practices like a healthy diet and physical activity do not create disease in healthy people and are therefore not homeopathic and are utilized by many types of clinicians. Similarly, a good clinician would take many characteristics of the patient into account during diagnosis and treatment, but a non-homeopath would use this information differently than a homeopath.

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