Whoever reads his life (by Haehl) and studies the Organon, cannot fail to realise that Hahnemann was one of the greatest and wisest physicians of any age. He combined the thorough scholarship and painstaking method of a German with a prophetic vision and imagination more common in Latins. Boldness in shaping hypotheses went with careful regard for truth in their testing.
He revolutionized medicine, and mankind owes him an enormous debt which some day will be more generously acknowledged than at present. Today the space allotted to him by medical historians is ridiculously small.
We homoeopathists have been laughed at for so defying our High Priest; people say we have a “father complex” in regard to him. Well, I am not ashamed of it, but I make one stipulation: it must be clear which Hahnemann I so admire, because his life falls into three fairly clear cut periods, two of which were homoeopathic.
In his older years the master became less clear in his writings, even mystical in his theories, more intolerant of those who differed from him and indifferent to the onward march of medical knowledge.
Even in his later Kothen days he had become isolated from medical progress, small wonder when one considers the persecution he endured from the exponents of rational medicine and their poor achievements in these days. Hence I have relatively little regard for Hahnemanns opinions after his second marriage. Let me give two quotations from Haehls admirable life.
The reformer and research worker, who had at first proceeded on purely scientific lines starting always from experiences and constructing from them his new theory of healing, had become in the 8th and 9th decades of his life a mystic devotee in the province of religion. Even intimate friends of Hahnemann and homoeopathy realized and regretted those faults in his nature, (his intolerance and sensitiveness to criticism) which became more grossly emphatic as time went on, but they were unable to alter them.
No, it is the earlier Hahnemann that I admire most; the man who divined the truth of Similia Similibus Curantur and who set to work systematically to prove his hypothesis, to follow its development wherever the facts led him; who studied the symptoms of disease and drugs, and noted them more carefully than any one since Hippocrates; who advanced boldly into the realm of infinitesimals and who used colloidal solutions before chemistry had discovered them; the man who regarded symptoms not only as things to be removed but as the cry of an organism for help; who for the first time pointed out how to follow the much neglected slogan, “Treat the patient, not his disease”. Haehl says of Hahnemann in his earlier days: “There was scarcely any branch of human knowledge to which he was indifferent,” again he speaks of Hahnemann as “He who never denied innovation and progress in any branch of life”.
Well, my theme is, if this Hahnemann were back with us today what would he think of it all? A question impossible to answer and perhaps rather foolish, but let us consider a few points it brings to mind. Is homoeopathy perfect? Can we go no further? I dont think the master would rest content with our position today.
What new drugs have been proven, he would say; why are there no more? A few remedies have been proved since his death and some of these, like Herings Lachesis, are invaluable additions. But the bulk of our materia medica is what Hahnemann gave us himself.
Then take our method of teaching materia medica. Clinical observation and use have caused a change in the old drug pathogenesis. Certain symptoms have been thrown into high relief by their frequent success as curative indications, others have been forgotten. Some drugs or groups of drugs have acquired a special reputation for certain conditions. There is a danger here.
A man of strong personality and reputation extols a few symptoms in a remedy proving; his opinion is copied and quoted in succeeding books. These symptoms become keynotes. There may be other neglected symptoms just as valuable in the original proving. I do not assert that there is not some in these early provings; there almost certainly is, but let us beware lest we throw out the baby with the bath water.
For these reasons I incline to think that Hahnemann, while appreciating the modern drug picture as an interesting way of presenting materia medica, would urge us to get back to the original provings and study the whole drug. (How ridiculous to consider Chamomilla only for teething babies, sore ears and bad tempers; I myself have seen it prevent an almost inevitable abortion.).
Then I think the master would want to know more about out textbooks. “What have you get to put into the hands of a poor young doctor so that by studying one or two volumes he can have an accurate knowledge of homoeopathic philosophy, history, materia medica, mode of application of drugs and repertory?” Hahnemann would not be very pleased with our present lack of a complete textbook. There are many admirable books, each presenting different facets of the subjects, but why not a cooperative textbook for the beginner, containing everything he should know in order to practice homoeopathy properly and cutting out all imaginative theorising?.
And now the returned Hahnemann would look at medicine as a whole. What he saw surely would amaze him. His prophetic vision of germs and of infection confirmed up to the hilt; preventive medicine following the lines he laid down for it; surgery helped by anaesthetics and asepsis performing miracles. Precision of diagnosis with the help of x-ray and laboratory tests, to an extent undreamed of in 1820. The old ideas of pathology widened and deepened helped by the wonderful discoveries of physiologists.
Deficiency diseases recognised and classified, and greatly helped by supplying the lack; vitamins being used and synthesized; endocrinology developed and shedding light on ;many other problems. The great jigsaw puzzle of disease and life gradually resolving into some recognisable shape, though still how far from complete. Our common heritage of science from which we physicians must take and use everything that might help against sickness and decay.
Have homoeopathists done so? Could we satisfy Hahnemann in this respect? I do not think so. For too long homoeopathy has existed as an esoteric cult, faithfully and well practiced by a small group in every generation but making few converts, and too little impression on the main body. Why? Because I think some of us have misunderstood Hahnemann. We remember his bitter railings against “allopathy” and half-hearted homoeopathy and decide that we shall have no truck with the infidel, and so we dismiss modern medical knowledge and methods as of no account. “we are the people and wisdom shall die with us”.
Haehl writes of Hahnemann: “Whatever seemed to him to be good, to be useful (as for example the theory of symptoms, semiology) he was glad to use.” Would Hahnemanns mind, so receptive of all valuable progress, have rejected the modern progressive discoveries and methods? Would he not rather have used everything to procure new support for his theory, especially today when the crass materialism of the past decades is changing to a biologically vitalistic conception?” Of course he would.
In Hahnemanns lifetime so-called rational medicine was mostly a farrago of theories and “heroic” murderous mal-praxis. He was justified in deriding it, but surely we can move with the times and from the main stream of todays knowledge adopt what is good. It is difficult to keep an even keel, I know. Not everything that is new is good, there are many things that deserve condemnation still, and the physicians high and only mission to cure the sick is lost sight of too often yet in the high places of orthodox medicine.
We must remember we are physicians, bound to use everything that can help humanity. Hahnemann himself stressed the need for thorough examination of the patient and removal of all extraneous factors hindering a cure. Nothing can diminish or destroy the great principle of homoeopathy, the most valuable weapon of all in our therapeutic armory, but there are others: let us know and use them.
Very little of Hahnemanns philosophy of disease would require to be altered to fit modern discoveries but how gladly would he have adopted thermometer and blood pressure readings, electrocardiograms, x-rays, sedimentation tests, blood examination and so on to elaborate his provings and to test the results of prescribing in disease. Much work still remains to be done on these lines in the investigation of homoeopathic remedies. With a knowledge of the medical advances up to this date I do not think Hahnemann would maintain today that removal of the symptom totality necessarily meant a cure.
For example, latent syphilis with positive W.R., diabetes, severe blood dyscrasias, early tuberculosis, brain tumours, etc., are often symptomless. The fallibility of relying on subjective symptoms alone for diagnosis and estimation of progress is now obvious. We must remember Hahnemann had little else to guide him. Even the stethoscope was not invented till 1816.
Therefore let us not call homoeopathy a complete system of medicine but rather a most valuable member of a composite system which includes sanitation and hygiene, surgery, orthopaedics, supplying of deficiencies; psychotherapy, diet, and (tell it not in Gath) an occasional excursion into the allopathic use of drugs as when we use digitalis for its physiological action in auricular fibrillation or sedatives where the similar principle fails as it occasionally does, to relieve severe pain.
Hahnemann himself was an enthusiast for surgery (Organon par. 186) and it is ridiculous that homoeopathy should be looked on as inimical to surgery when all we practice is a wise conservatism with regard to it.
Turning now to psychotherapy the master would smile to see how today psychiatrists are doing just what he advocated in the Organon (par. 224, 225 and 226) with regard to mental diseases, anxiety neurosis and hysteria. His amazing insight had so long ago penetrated to the nature of these diseases and divided the psychoneuroses (to be treated by psychological means even if bodily symptoms had developed) from the psychoses (not amenable to psychotherapy and to be treated by the homoeopathic drug). His pioneer work in the treatment of the insane would alone entitle Hahnemann to a place among the great ones of medicine.
I hope that none of the foregoing will be interpreted as showing lukewarmness for homoeopathy. I yield to none in my enthusiasm for Hahnemann and the therapeutic system he discovered, but surely it is permissible to criticize, to improve on some ideas which were the outcome of the relative ignorance of his time, to advance from his position to one where homoeopathy claims not the whole sum of therapeutics but an honored and major place in it. It is only by such wise moderation that we ever shall in my opinion convert the bulk of the medical profession to our view, and so increase a hundred fold the average doctors power over disease.
Homoeopathy is too valuable to be the preserve of only a few enthusiasts.