About Us

Ann McKay, R.N.C., John McGonigle, M.D. and Mark Brody, M.D. have devoted themselves to homeopathy and related alternative medical treatments. In keeping with the spirit of homeopathy's founder Samuel Hahnemann M.D., we utilize treatments that emphasize safety and the restoration of the sick to health.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Homeopathy and Hucksterism

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, there was a proliferation of the market for what were then described as "nostrums" or as they were more pejoratively referred to, "quack medicines." These kind of "snake oil" medicines were offerred up to the public by fast talking hucksters of the type lampooned in Steven Sondheim's Sweeney Todd. To say that the medical community of the time frowned on these practices is a bit like saying the Catholic Church frowns on devil worship. The medical literature of the time is filled with the severest condemnations for such practices which often reach a high pitch of moral rectitude. William Osler wrote in 1910 (The Faith That Heals, British Medical Journal 1; 1470-2) "For a generation, the people of the United States have indulged in an orgie of drugging. Between polypharmacy in the profession and quack medicines, the American body had become saturated ad nauseam."

Homeopaths were lumped by many allopathic physicians with these hucksters and homeopathy was viewed as yet the next ruse cooked up by mountebanks and medical pretenders. Conventional physicians eschewed advertising, believing that as medical scientists, appealling to humankind's baser motivations and preying on the innocent was not only inappropriate, but morally reprehensible. Today, however, the tables are turned. Ironically, physicians embrace the hucksters and hucksterism reigns with (almost) unbridled authority in the halls of allopathy. While in recent times, we have seen a countermovement to try to limit some of these excesses, not the least of which is government inquiries into the relationships between leading researchers, drug companies, and possible tax fraud, the pharmaceutical industry and medical device industry still commands the full attention of the modern allopathic physician. Drugs continue to dominate as treatment modalities. There is even recent literature suggesting that statins may be "medically indicated" for people without hypercholesterolemia, or any sign of the illnesses for which hypercholesterolemia is considered to be a mere risk factor.

In these times of excess, the proverbial shit eventually hits the fan, as it did with Enron, with the mortgage industry, with credit, and as it is likely to do with polluting our environment, engineering our food, and trying to act as policeman to the world. Throughout this sycotic overgrowth of allopathic medicine, throughout its corruption by the moneyed interests, homeopaths have remained true to their profession, continuing to pursue that Holy Grail first enunciated by Hahnemann -- "to restore the sick to health, to cure, as it is called" (Aphorism 1, The Organon). When the shit starts hitting the fan with allopathy, when we realize that we have built a system that is too big, too expensive, too toxic, too disease oriented, and too impersonal, homeopathy will be waiting in the wings, quietly waiting for the flotsam and jetsam of the conventional medical system to float its way.

It's not that we have such great powers of restraint in expressing ourselves. It's just that we've grown hoarse after centuries of clamoring for attention and finding that almost no one listens. It is sometimes difficult as a homeopath to observe the psychological power of hucksterism over people. While saying it is like watching lambs being sent to the slaughter would be an overstatement, there is still a feeling of sadness and anger among many of us homeopaths as we watch people get consumed by the system, with all of its impersonalism, its toxic side effects, its immense expenses, and its sometimes false hopes. We are wise to hold our tongues, though, because homeopathy is not yet so reliable that we can be sure we can do better all the time. The truth is a more shadowy affair, because sometimes people do have good outcomes with conventional treatment, and sometimes people have poor outcomes with homeopathy. We homeopaths are superior to the allopaths in that we kill or maim fewer people with our gentler approaches, but until we can demonstrate that we can cure more consistently than allopathic medicine, it is best not to overpromise and overstate, as the hucksters have done within allopathic medicine, what we have to offer. Then we too have become the mountebanks which the modern allopathic huckster has become.

Mark Brody, MD