A not so long while ago, I met up with a very interesting young woman who had all sorts of things to say. One of these interesting things was a hobby of her mothers, Homeopathy.
Homeopathy was developed in the early 19th century by a character named Samuel Christian Friedrich Hahnemann. At the time the development of scientific medicine in Western Europe was very much embryonic, and Samuel developed the idea that to cure a disease, instead of following normal – and damned dangerous – practices of bloodletting, he would try and keep the disease inside the system and purge it out by restoring the vital life force.
The development of scientific medicine was essentially materialistic and, well, scientific. Homeopathy differed from this by following a metaphysical and subjective approach.
Today, the practice involves dissolving insignificant amounts of remedy (that in larger doses would produce symptomatic effects similar to the ones being treated) into solution in order to cure the patient. The idea that a special form of shaking the solution confers a kind of ‘memory’ to the molecules ingested by the patient.
There is, however, absolutely no evidence which could demonstrate the validity of any of these statements. It’s all very nice on paper, and indeed, within the realm of metaphysical and spiritual practices, it holds quite a reputable status. The methods involved might seem scientific in that they search for a reliable remedy to suit the disease, but instead of attacking the disease, they focus on restoring the life spirit, whose balance was damaged by the miasm, or disease in question. As far as evidence-based science and reality checks go, there’s nothing which could distinguish homeopathy from the placebo effect. Indeed, it is often speculated that many of the concepts in homeopathy smack of religious revelation in their inane proclamations.
So, what have I got against this woman’s mother practising homoeopathy? Absolutely nothing. She has every right to believe whatever she might seem fit.
The problem arises when one tries to substitute real medicine with alternative medicine. The notion that a spiritual cure can claim a privileged position in face of science is very dangerous, not only for the state of society, but for the patient involved, above all!
I’m not drawing at straw-men. In the UK, homeopathy is offered by the NHS. Homeopathy pharmacies are licensed by the Department of Health.
The notion that an alternative remedy, just because it does not involve chemicals, is somehow more apt than a doctor to cure an illness belittles the leaps and bounds of scientific medical progress, without which the average life expectancy of a developed nation would not go much over 30. Indeed, there are herbal remedies which, because they include the same chemicals found in medicine, help to sooth symptoms of serious diseases or cure minor ills. That is, of course, only natural.
Yet the unsubstantiated notion that statistically and chemically insignificant dilution of untested remedies will cure a patient by balancing their life force is not so different to shamanism or voodoo incantations.
Everyone has the right to bask in their own beliefs as they see fit, be it religion or homeopathy or whatever. However, one thing which must remain clearly defined is the line between public health and quackery. It hurts to see taxpayer money be diverted into sponsoring remedies which are indistinguishable from placebo effects yet masked as real medicine. It endangers the separation of politics and superstition, a separation which has taken millenia to materialise.
If you feel that ingesting a couple of molecules of whatever will make you feel better, you are entitled to that belief. If you believe that a couple of molecules of conium maculatum will kill your tumour, well, it’s a dangerous delusion but you are entitled to it nevertheless. However, if in some way or another the State gives its blessing to this quackery and non-sensical shamanism, then you start to threaten all the medical progress that has been made to date, and we’ve got a problem.