Hahnemann’s Fight Against Venesection and Compound Mixtures

We shrug our shoulders at the uses of venesection and emetics in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when they were used for every disease….



Hufeland still says in 1830: Who ever neglects to draw blood, when a man is in danger of suffocating in his own blood, has in the event of his patient’s death or incurable disease, resulting from such omission, committed a serious crime of which his conscience must eternally accuse him; he is a murderer by omission quite as much as he who does not draw his brother from the water when he is danger of drowning.

Venesection was considered, first and foremost, in inflammations of the lungs and pleura, as the predominant and frequently the only helpful remedy “thousands and thousands of cases of inflammation of the lungs are quickly and permanently cured by venesection” (Mukisch). “In inflammation of the lungs the patient is irretrievably lost unless copious and even repeated with drawals of blood are made.” (Zeroni), “When an inflammation of the lungs is cured without venesection it is a rara avis, nigro simillima cygno” (a rare bird like a black swan-R.H.). And also in other diseases, for example, strangulated hernia (Augustin), in coughing up blood and haemorrhage from the lungs (Bischoff). “In hereditary tendency to consumption, venesection used occasionally arrests its development, and fights most powerfully against its progress” (Simon, Hamburg). Even in cholera (in 1831 and still in 1854) copious withdrawals of blood were recommended (Hasper), “It must be four to five pounds” (Rieser). Its intention was to avoid too great thickening of the blood, following upon the great loss of water through the frequent evacuations. If insufficient blood was drawn, the patient was still in danger of contracting a serious chronic disease. Therefore it was necessary to repeat venesection,-repeat it, until the patient fainted, ” even if those around him wailed” (Bischoff), because ” are not the most exhausting haemorrhage to be stopped by venesection to the point of fainting” (Heinrotn).



According to official statistics, France introduced and exported leeches: in out.

1820 — 1, 117, 930.

NOw Broussais’ teaching begins to spread: in out 1823 320,000 1,188,825 1827 33,644,494 195, 950 1833 41, 654, 300 869, 650

Dr. Thilenius who gives us these figures in the “Berlin hom. Ztschr.” (1885, Vol. 4. page 67), adds: “We can indeed ask with one of Broussais’ contemporaries, who has shed more French blood, Napoleon or Broussais?”



Professor Kussmaul describes in a graphic way the mania for blood- letting in his “Remembrances of Youth of an old Physician” (page 293):

The frequency with which blood-letting was prescribed now seems incredible. A strong woman of Kandern, whom I knew personally, was ordered by her family physician to have seven venesection in six weeks and the application of sixty leeches, because of an alleged inflammation of the brain and a subsequent intestinal inflammation. She was then over fifty and she reached the age of eighty three. Even weakly patients were frequently bled. I once heard the thin wife of a clergyman tell my father- she was then more than forty-that thirty venesections had been performed on her because of a frequent recurrence of blood in the sputum. She died of phthisis at the age of fifty-two years and six months.

In the clinics of Heidelberg the lancet and spring-lancet were in almost daily use. An Assistant Physician of the “Pfeufer Clinic,” I had to revise the apothecaries, accounts in which the yearly amount spent on leeches was heavier than that expended on medicines, although the latter were not sparingly used. We assistants soon became experts in venesection: to-day there are professors who have never performed a venesection or even seen one.

Even in the year 1861, one of the most eminent statesmen of the nineteenth century, Count Cavour, lost his life unexpected in consequence of senseless venesection (three times during twenty-four hours and twice more during the following two days) The venesections had been so thorough that when a further attempt was made, no more blood would flow, and only by compressing the artery could two or three more ounces of coagulated blood be extracted. The reporter of the “Times” in Turin at that time, called this procedure on the part of the eminent Italian physician by the right name when he reported to his paper on the death of this eminent man: The Romans are said to have crowned, on the capital, the physician who liberated them from Pope Adrian VI. The Italians of our day would hang the Physicians of Count Cavour with an easy conscience, if by that they could alleviate their sorrow. The treatment was pure murder. The names of the worthy physicians deserve to be handed down to posterity. They were Dr. Rossi, Mattoni and at the last the physician-in-ordinary to the king, Dr. Riberi, at whose hands the mother, the wife and the brothers of Victor Emmanuel died in succession in the beginning of that unlucky year, 1833.

We read on page 137 of Professor Franz von Winckel’s Allegemeiner Gynaekologie” (1909): No generation has passed in which a number of physicians have not considered it urgently necessary to venesect full- blooded pregnant women, that is to extract from time to their precious life-force, in quantities that were by no means small. A representative, of this rage for blood, a very well-known obstetrician in Berlin, Hanck, gives a description of the mania for blood-letting which was still in vogue in the fifties, and proves that venesection was not only performed with the firm conviction of helping, but also with the outspoken intention of posing as a help, or as they expressed it, “in order to afford science a small share in the natural course of parturition.”

And Professor Sticker of Bonn says in this book on “Whooping cough” (2nd edition, 1911, Clinical part, page 188):

We shrug our shoulders at the uses of venesection and emetics in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when they were used for every disease, as well as for whooping- cough in which venesection still plays such a large part up to the middle of the nineteenth century that Romberg (1853) warms us not to omit it: ” the earlier and the more copiously the better!” In the sixteenth century very few physicians dared to omit the use of venesection and emetics, because they would have made enemies of surgeon-barbers who were then becoming a very powerful Guild. Jaques Despars and others knew how to describe the persecution by this powerful Union; the great courage of A valleriola Johann, Weyer or Sennert was required in order to combat the abuse of venesection.



In the preface to the 6th edition of the “Organon,” page 18, Hahnemann says:

Homoeopathy knows that a cure can only take place by the reaction of the vital force against the rightly chosen remedy which has been ingested, and that the cure will be certain and rapid in proportion to the strength and vitality of the patient. Hence homoeopathy avoids everything in the slightest degree enfeebling. Homoeopathy never sheds a drop of blood it administers no emetics, purgatives, laxatives or diaphoretics.

And in another passage in the ” Organon” we read: Introduction, page 39. Annotation).

Although there probably never was a superfluous drop of blood in the living human body, yet the old-school practitioners consider an imaginary excess of blood to be the man active cause of all haemorrhages and inflammations, which they must remove and drain off by venesection, cupping and leeches. The allopathic physician with his venesection draws from the patient. not an oppressive superabundance of blood as that cannot possibly exist; he only robs him of that which is indispensable to life and recovery-the normal quantity of blood-and consequently of strength-this great loss no physician’s power can replace.

In his opinion (“Organon,” 74. Annotation 2, pages 163 and 164): Such a great loss of blood is evidently irreplaceable for the reminder of life, since the organs intended by the Creator for blood-making have thereby become so weakened that while they may manufacture blood in the same quantity it is not of an equally good quality. It is utterly impossible for this imagined plethora which has to be combated by frequent venesection to have been produced with such remarkable rapidity since the pulse of the now heated patient was so quiet up to an hour ago, before the fever and chill has set in. No man no sick person has ever had too much blood or too much strength. On the contrary, every sick man lacks strength, otherwise his vital energy would have prevented the development of the disease. Thus it is irrational and cruel to add to this already weakened patient, a greater, indeed the greatest serious source of debility that can be imagined. It is a murderous malpractice, irrational and cruel, which is based on a wholly groundless and absurd theory, rather than on the elimination of his disease which is ever dynamic and can only be removed by dynamic potencies.

In the year 1834 Hahnemann wrote to Dr. Dunsford, the physician inordinary to Lord Anglesea, whom he himself was treating:

It is never necessary or useful to diminish the amount of blood, which always means a lowering of the life-force and vitality, the reaction of which is all the more wholesome the less it has been interfered with.

The passage in this letter coincides exactly, almost word for word, with what Dr. Johann Josef Roth, of Munich, has remembered and jotted down in his “Leaves of Remembrance,” of a conversation with the Master when he visited Hahnemann in Paris in 1836:

Hahnemann says: It is life-force which cures diseases; because a dead man needs no more medicines. If we accept this we must preserve the life-force, we must not shed blood-not deplete the patient; because in the blood lies the vital force.



In the Introduction to the “Organon,” page 78, we read:

We cannot expect a cure by depressing the body to the point of death, in a scientific manner, and yet the old school knows not what else to do with patients suffering from chronic diseases, than to attack the sufferers with means that do nothing but torture them waste their strength and fluids and shorten their lives! Can that be said to save, which destroys? Does it deserve any other name than that of an evil art? It acts, lege artis, in the most purposeless manner, and it does (it would almost seem purposely) that is to say, the very opposite from what it should do. Can this be commended? Can it be further tolerated?

And on page 59 he condemns thoughtless imitations of nature through “antagonistic and deviating methods of treatment” and the lack of purpose in their procedures.

And on page 144, 59 we read:

By venesection they intended to remove the chronic congestion of blood to the head and other parts, for instance, palpitations, but the result it always a larger accumulation of blood in these organs, fuller and more frequent heart-beat, etc.

On the value of setons, he states on page 59, annotation:

What good results have ever ensued from those foetid artificial ulcers, so much in vogue, called issues. If even, during the first week or two, whilst they still cause pain, they appear somewhat to check, by antagonism, a chronic disease, nevertheless, when the body has been accustomed to the pain, they have no other effect than that of weakening the patient and giving still greater scope to the chronic affection. Does anyone imagine in this nineteenth century, that they serve as an outlet for the escape of the materia peccans? It almost appears as if this were the case!

Partly in letters and partly by long annotations in the “Organon” Hahnemann explains his opinion of Broussais method of treatment. For instance, we read in a letter to Constantine Hering of October 3rd, 1836, among other things (see Supplement 177):

This ancient body of science (the Royal Academy of Medicine of Paris- R.H.) which consists of a co-called committee of allopaths will in time only play a miserable part in the history of medicine. Its members are almost without exception barbaric venesectors. They practice, teach and know of nothing else than than venesection and the application of leeches. Broussais false doctrine has during the last twenty years, made shameless murderers of them, while Broussais himself is beginning to rejection his own doctrine and to incline towards homoeopathy. Through the institution of this terrible venesecting method he has destroyed the whole system of prescription of medicine, and now the apothecaries here play only a very poor part. On pages 146 and 147 of the “Organon,” Hahnemann describes: In proportion to the maintenance of the patient’s strength will his ailments be apparent, and the more intensely will he feel his pains. He moans and groans and cries out and calls for help more and more vociferously, so that the physician cannot give relief quick enough. Broussais needed only to depress the vital force, to lessen it more and more and behold! the more frequently the patient was bled, the more were leeches and cupping-glasses used to suck out the vital fluid (for the innocent, irreplaceable blood was, according to him, responsible for almost all ailments).

In the same proportion the patient lost the power to feel pain or to express his aggravated condition by violent complaint and gestures. The patient appears more quiet in proportion as he grows weaker, the bystanders rejoice in his apparent improvement, they are ready for the repetition of the same measure on the renewal of his suffering-be they spasms, suffocations, fears or pains-for these had calmed him so well before and gave promise of further ease. In diseases of long duration and when the patient still retained some strength he was deprived of food, put on a “hunger diet” in order to depress life more successfully and inhibits the restless states. The debilitated patient feels unable to protest against further similar measures of blood- letting, leeches, vesication, warm baths and so forth, or to refuse their employment. That death must follow such frequently repeated reduction and exhaustion of the vital energy is not observed by the patient, who has already been robbed of all consciousness, and the relatives, blinded by the alleviations of the last sufferings of the patient by means of blood-letting and warm baths, cannot understand and are surprised when the patient quietly silps away… The physicians in Europe and elsewhere accepted this convenient treatment of all diseases according to a single rule, since it saved them from all further thinking (the most laborious of all work under the sun). In this way many thousand physicians were miserably misled to shed callously the warm blood of patients who were capable of cure, and thereby to gradually rob millions of men of their lives according to Broussais method- more even than fell on the battlefields of Napoleon.

And again he says against Broussais, on page 163, annotation to 74:

But from venesection, healthy common sense can expect nothing more than certain lessening and shortening of life.

Hahnemann related about the French King, Louis Phillipe (1838, Supplement 176), that he was a “strong supporter of allopathy and always carries with him the spring lancet for venesection when residing in the country, and applied it himself on his personnel if they had a sudden attack.”


HAHNEMANN AGAINST THE VENESECTION OF THE “PSEUDO- HOMOEOPATHS.” In an annotation to 148 of the “Organon” page 215 he describes the “gentlemen of the mongrel-sect,” as people who when the unsuitable remedy does not immediately give relief, instead of blaming their own unpardonable ignorance and laxity in the performance of the most important and serious of human duties, ascribe their lack of success to homoeopathy, which they accuse of great imperfection if the truth be told, its imperfection consists in this, that the most suitable homoeopathic remedy for each morbid condition does not spontaneously fly into their mouths like roasted pigeons, without any trouble on their part., They know, however, from frequent practice, how to supplement the barely semi-homoeopathic remedy by reverting to allopathic means, which are more familiar to them; amongst these is the application of one or more dozen leeches to the affected part, or little harmless venesections to the extent of eight ounces, and so forth, play an important part and should the patient in spite of all this recover, they extol their venesections, leeches, etc., alleging that, had it not been for these the patient would not have pulled through and they give us to understand, in no uncertain language, that these operations, derived without much exercise of thought from the pernicious routine of the old school, in reality contributed the principal share of the cure. But if the patient died under the treatment as not infrequently happened, they sought to console the friends by saying that “they themselves, had seen that everything conceivable had been done for the lamented deceased.” Who would honour this frivolous and pernicious tribe by acknowledging them as practitioners of the very difficult but salutary art, as homoeopathic physicians? May they reap their just reward and when taken ill may they themselves be treated similarly.



Professor Heinroth wrote in his “Anti-Organon” in 1825 (page 99):

“How beneficial are leeches, cuppings, vesicatories, etc! Where does Mr. Hahnemann ever mention these remedies? And as for venesection! Is not Mr. Hahnemann a sworn enemy of this great remedy?

Prof. Wedekind of Darmstadt, “Enquiry into the Homoeopathic System,” 1825.

But now I ask: does not the generally recognised indispensability of evacuating medicines and of venesection give the most obvious proof of the uselessness of the Hahnemannian doctrine in practical medicine? Elias’ “Homoopathische Gurkenmonate,” Halle, 1827: It would not be a brilliant proof of the harmlessness of homoeopathy if it lets patients, suffering from inflammation, suffocate in their own blood.

In 1828, Dr. Ant. Friedr. Fischer of Dresden, detailed in “Hufeland’s Journal” (Part 2, page 42-46):

Homoeopaths do not shed blood, and God only knows how they reach their objective in all those cases where the only help is to be found in the withdrawal of blood. There are many lay people who do not like venesection and these seek the homoeopath. We must, therefore, try to make venesection as superfluous as possible by a mode of living which does not promote the production of blood.

In another passage the same Fischer says: How injurious are the consequences of neglected venesection! If they do not kill the patient at once they increase his sufferings because he will become septic, or drift into a long protracted and incurable disease, which will kill him in a most painful manner-and yet the homoeopathic school boast that they can do without drawing blood! And in a daring and impudent way, they a vow that without fear of the consequences, they act in accordance with the caprice of a man who only delights in contradictions, and who without troubling about the harm he does, endeavours to work against the experience of a thousand years. Homoeopathy must appear to every intelligent person as the result of a mind whose brain has already become corrupt within the living body.



In “Cure and Prevention of Scarlet Fever” (1801), Hahnemann writes:

Here we often see the non plus ultra of the grossest empiricism; for each single symptom a peculiar remedy in the heterogeneous and repeated prescriptions: a sight that cannot fail to inspire the unprejudiced observer with feeling at once of pity and indignation!

And on the same question, he says, in “Hufeland’s Journal” against Brown:

Quackery always goes hand in with much mixing, and he who can teach it” (let alone allow it as Brown did-R.H.) as far removed from nature and its laws.

In 1805 in “The Medicine of Experience” we read:

The best results are always obtained by one simple suitable remedy, without any other addition. It is never necessary t mix two together.

In “AEsculapius in the Balance” we find the sentences:

For, with the exception of what a few distinguished men, for example, Conrad Gesner, Stork, Cullen, Alexander, Coste, Willemet, have done, by administering simple medicines alone and uncombined, in certain diseases, or to persons in health, the rest is nothing but opinion, illusion deception.

And in another place he says: footnote:

This is the general but most unprofitable procedure of our medical practitioners-never to prescribe single drugs-no always in combination with several others in an artistic prescription. “No prescription can be properly termed as such,” says Hofrath Gruner in his Art of Prescribing,”which does not contain several ingredients at once,-so in order to see clearer you has better put out your eyes!”

In 1808, Hahnemann wrote in “On the Value of the Speculative Systems of Medicine”: One might have expected that in the cure of disease they (the physicians-R.H.) would invariably have employed a single simple medicine, and watched its effect according to the general rule binding on all: where a single remedy is efficacious, we should not use compound ones. In direct opposition to plain common sense, they attack disease by complex mixtures of medicines with none of which they are more than superficially acquainted, and of these medicinal mixtures they often give several simultaneously and many in one day. Even supposing the virtues of each medicinal substance were accurately known, yet the administration of these multifarious compounds, this haphazard administration of several substances at one time, each of which must have a different action, would in itself be very absurd and only lead to a blind and confused practice. But it is still worse, and more reprehensible (to prescribe very complex medicines) when we consider that all of these divers substances thus mixed together are each of individual great but unascertained efficacy… This motley mixing system is nothing but a convenient makes shift for one who, having but a slender acquaintance with the properties of a single substance, flatters himself, though he cannot find any one simple suitable remedy to remove the complaint, that by combining a great many there may be one amongst them that by a happy chance shall hit the mark.

Richard Haehl
Richard Haehl was the author of - Life and Work of Samuel Hahnemann