I’d like to kick off Homeopathy Awareness Week with some remarks from Oliver Wendell Holmes—physician, writer, and father of the Supreme Court justice of the same name—from his 1842 essay, “Homeopathy and Its Kindred Delusions.”
Those kind friends who suggest to a person suffering from a tedious complaint, that he “Had better try Homoeopathy,” are apt to enforce their suggestion by adding, that “at any rate it can do no harm.” This may or may not be true as regards the individual. But it always does very great harm to the community to encourage ignorance, error, or deception in a profession which deals with the life and health of our fellow-creatures….
To deny that good effects may happen from the observance of diet and regimen when prescribed by Homoeopathists as well as by others, would be very unfair to them. But to suppose that men with minds so constituted as to accept such statements and embrace such doctrines as make up the so-called science of Homoeopathy are more competent than others to regulate the circumstances which influence the human body in health and disease, would be judging very harshly the average capacity of ordinary practitioners.
To deny that some patients may have been actually benefited through the influence exerted upon their imaginations, would be to refuse to Homoeopathy what all are willing to concede to every one of those numerous modes of practice known to all intelligent persons by an opprobrious title.
So long as the body is affected through the mind, no audacious device, even of the most manifestly dishonest character, can fail of producing occasional good to those who yield it an implicit or even a partial faith. The argument founded on this occasional good would be as applicable in justifying the counterfeiter and giving circulation to his base coin, on the ground that a spurious dollar had often relieved a poor man’s necessities.
More about the struggles of different approaches to health and wellness in the 19th Century in the National Library of Medicine’s feature “So, What’s New in the Past? The Multiple Meanings of Medical History.”