Q: What do you think were the reasons for the decline of homeopathy in America and all over the rest of the world over the last 100 years?

comments by Andre Saine.


A.S.: I have followed the evolution of homeopathy very carefully and I can tell you when the “downward” movement started specifically in America. We can date its beginning in 1845 with Julius Hempel’s first translation of Hahnemann’s works. His mistranslation and interpretations of Hahnemann’s texts, as well as his general teachings, led to confusion and he was responsible for introducing into homeopathy a more reductionist and allopathic way of thinking.

That was where it started, but that movement was not very strong until 1870, when Carroll Dunham made his famous speech before the American Institute of Homœopathy called “Liberty of Medical Opinion and Action: a Vital Necessity and a Great Responsibility.” In fact this speech provided license to the pseudo-homeopaths to practice their eclecticism.

Four years later in 1874, the word homeopathy was stricken off as a requirement for membership in the American Institute of Homœopathy. Dunham’s original motive was perhaps noble but later shown to be naïve. He said, “let them practice as they judge best, and in the long term they will be convinced that pure homœopathy is the only way to practice.” Lippe in answer to Dunham’s speech asked whether the homeopaths should be governed by principles or by opinion like the allopaths. He said because similia similibus curantur is a law, we do not have the freedom to practice contrarily to the law if we call ourselves homeopaths.

What eventually happened was that the pseudo-homeopaths had greater freedom to call homeopathy what they practiced, taught and wrote about. As predicted by Lippe it weakened the societies and the colleges. The survival of pure homeopathy was in danger. The decline continued further. Take for example in 1885 when T. F. Allen, then President of the American Institute of Homœopathy and Dean of a New York Homeopathic Medical College, said that there had been no proof of the power of infinitesimal, it was but dogma. Now the majority of members of the American Institute of Homœopathy who were pseudo-homeopaths were just one step short of joining the “regulars”: the allopaths.

In the societies and the colleges, the fundamental principles of homeopathy were not even taught. The quality of education in the colleges in North America went way down. It was now but a question of time for the decline and disappearance of its institutions. Homeopathy had become very popular in North America during its early years due to its amazing successes obtained by the “old guard” during the epidemics—epidemics of diphtheria, scarlet fever, cholera, malaria, yellow fever—especially yellow fever; the death rate for that was 55% when allopathic treatment was used, but less than 5% in cases with homeopathic treatment; and it was the same for cholera. It is here with the “old guard” that homeopathy obtained its golden letters. So homeopathy became very popular, with the public as well as with the politicians. For a physician, it was often better to be known to be practicing homeopathy than allopathy.

In 1880’s there were about fifteen different homeopathic colleges with more being founded as the demand for homeopathic doctors rose. But very few physicians were trained in pure homeopathy and able to practice it properly. So most of them practiced “mixed” homeopathy with allopathy. So when we hear that at the turn of the century, there were 15,000 homeopaths in the United States, this simply is not true; there were probably less than two hundred trying to practice pure homeopathy. The rest were “mixers” or physicians who had degrees from homeopathic colleges, but did not attempt to practice pure homeopathy. Such a degree did not mean that you had been trained in homeopathy. Just to give you an example: Nash, whom we all admire for his “Leaders” said that when he attended the Western College of Homeopathic Medicine in Cleveland during the 1860’s, not only had he never read the Organon, but he had never heard of its existence.

By 1880 there were about 6000 homeopathic practitioners in America, of which 4800 were graduates from homeopathic colleges. Do you know how many copies of the Organon had been sold by that time since the first American edition of the Organon had been published in 1836? About 600 copies had been sold—total! Moreover, quite a large number of these Organons had been bought by laymen, because physicians like Lippe had their patients read the Organon. So you could say that less than ten percent of the graduates of homeopathic medical schools owned a copy of the Organon! Many of them had never even heard of it. The real problem, of course, was one of education.

You see, homeopathy becomes an extremely difficult science to learn and practice successfully when rigor in teaching it is missing. During a meeting on homeopathic education, I was once sitting at a table with about twelve other physicians, most of them had also specialized in various fields. As far as I remember there were two psychiatrists, one neurologist, one cardiologist, two internists and one radiologist—they all had done long years of study in difficult and demanding fields, but all of them said that their attempt to learn homeopathy had definitely been the most difficult. Yet none of them had gone through a training that would have taught them homeopathy like they had for learning their specialty, from A to Z.

For their homeopathic training they all had to collect bits and pieces, here and there. And that has always been the problem—the lack of good quality education in homeopathy. And why? Because we do not have people who have mastered the subject enough to teach it well. There was no lack of institutions in America, but how could one expect to receive adequate education if none of the teachers themselves had mastered their discipline? We have to start somewhere. Otherwise we are dealing with a vicious cycle, a downward spiral. This has always been the problem in the history of homeopathy.

Few people mastered the subject sufficiently to teach it so that the graduates would be able to apply the principles of homeopathy successfully. At the same time, impostors such as Hempel took up chairs of instruction, so that the blind was leading the blind. Today, it is not too different. History is only repeating itself.

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4 responses to “Q: What do you think were the reasons for the decline of homeopathy in America and all over the rest of the world over the last 100 years?

  1. Germany: In 2003, the government regulated the MWBO, which concerns the extent of medical postgrade eductation. The German Medical Association of Homoeopaths (DZVhÄ) regretted deeply this down-regulation of homeopathic training. Instead of 6 modules of homoeopathic theory they had to conform themselves with 4 modules; practical training went down from 300 hours to 100. On the website of DZVhÄ is explicitly stated that this quick-and-easy training they have to offer only serves as an introduction to Homoeopathy, not as a valid foundation for a successful homeoepathic practice.

  2. I often wonder why the self indulgent and over bearing US is used as a yardstick ?

  3. Errol Klinkerfuss

    As an example of what not to do.

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