Ethical practice and homeopathy

Homeopathic practice as an ethical problem

By Fr Jacek Norkowski, MD, Ph.D (philos), OP ethical practice

In the following article by Fr Norkowski, he asks if it is ethical for doctors to practice homeopathy. For other articles by Jacek see here. Thanks to Homeopatia Polska from where I robbed this article! (


Homeopathy is a field of medicine that develops somewhat on the margins in Poland and around the world. It is not taught at medical faculties, and few scientific publications about it are known to general practitioners, let alone ordinary patients. Despite these difficulties, homeopathy defends itself well, thanks to the talents of doctors who use it with good results. There is, however, a certain ethical problem involved. Questions arise: is the doctor allowed to use methods he did not learn during his medical training? Is the doctor allowed to use methods the mechanism of which, are not fully understood?

Both these questions are often referred to homeopaths as an accusation. The one who puts such questions generally is not aware of a few things. First of all – from the methodological perspective – homeopathy, i.e. the Hahnemann approach, from the very beginning can be a model of a properly applied empirical approach, with systematically conducted observations and studies and the preparation of statistical elaborations etc. Secondly, medicine is constantly discovering something new in areas that already seemed thoroughly learned. Finally, it usually happens that we lack the full knowledge of the mechanisms of action of drugs whose therapeutic effects are well known to us from the practical side.

Therefore, homeopathy is not so “unscientific” and nor is allopathic medicine as “scientific” as it might seem. In medicine, practice has always preceded theory and there is no reason to worry too much about it. Medicine is more of a practical than a theoretical field, and as such is focused primarily on the wellbeing of the patient, not on scientific discoveries. If you take into account the main slogan of medicine, Primum non nocere, then the benefits of homeopathic treatment become even clearer. Undoubtedly, possible side effects of homeopathic medicines are less onerous for the patient than in allopathic medicine. Often homeopathic remedies are also the drugs of choice, the best way a doctor can help a patient. Depriving the patient of the possibility of homeopathic treatment that is needed for him would do him great harm. On the other hand, the point is not to treat the patient with just one method; he/she does not have to be treated exclusively homeopathically. Due to a lack of understanding of its uniqueness, and at the same time by not acknowledging a certain closed-mindedness of classical medicine with its “molecular” paradigm and sometimes due to fears that homeopathy works on a magical basis, they criticise it and reject it.

Not a lot of purists notice this problem because they are prejudiced against homeopathy. Interestingly, many people criticise homeopathy on religious grounds but the fact that the current Pope, Benedict XVI, is being treated homeopathically contradicts the unfounded nature of these kinds of accusations (writes Peter Seewald in the book Benedict XVI:Ein Porträt aus der Nähe, Berlin 2005, p. 33). And Popes from Gregory XVI (1831-1846) to Pius XII (1939-1958), after overcoming some initial reservations, even supported homeopathy. (I refer to the publication Divina Omeopatia: le falsità di quark and La disinformazione su Vaticano e omeopatia, “Anthropos & Iatria”, (annoV), Gennaio-Marzo 2001). The answer of St John Paul II to questions concerning homeopathy, directed to him by a doctor belonging to the Malopolska Association of Homeopaths, was also positive. This answer, in the name and with the consent of the Pope, was sent by Fr. Jan Ptasznik, a member of the Polish Section of the Secretariat of State, in a special letter of June 22, 2004, states “the Church does not object to the use of homeopathic treatment”. This should allay the fears of some of the faithful of the Catholic Church, but most of them do not know about the existence of this letter. Homeopathy has to be measured with these types of problems. The relevant part of the letter states:

… Generally, the Church does not prohibit the use of homeopathy in treatment, unless it is connected with magic or acceptance of the idea of Eastern religions, especially Buddhism. However, the Church warns against the use of natural methods of treatment that would reject scientific methods, making the patient trusting, for example, health therapists, and [so refusing] hospital treatment, which at a certain stage of the disease would appear indispensable. There is also a rich tradition of using natural medicines, stored especially in religious monasteries and in younger congregations that are helping people who are sick, such as, for example the hospitaller orders. It seems, therefore, that there is nothing to prevent homeopathic remedies, always with the reservation that the patient’s health is the most important…

It remains to admit one thing: homeopathy is a challenge for science, philosophy, theology and academic medicine itself. It provokes us to ask questions again which we have learned to omit, forcing us to recognize facts that do not fit purely into the “chemical” and “mechanistic” vision of life. Is this, however, a disadvantage of homeopathy? Or maybe it is its biggest advantage? As science courageously enters new terrains, it discovers the existence of non-local, non-linear phenomena in all living organisms. Participants of various symposia organised by homeopathy associations in Poland have had the opportunity to get acquainted with these new discoveries many times.

For the assessment of homeopathy, as always in life, a considerable dose of prudence is needed. Assessment of the homeopathic doctor’s activities should be based on its treatment results, tested impartially and taking into account the specifics of this method. Such analyses fall definitely in favour of homeopathy. If this is the case, we can be sure that it implements the noble slogan of medicine: Bonum aegroti – suprema lex – meaning “the good of the sick is the highest law”.

Image: Homeopatia Polska

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