Education And Debate

What does homoeopathy do—and how?

BMJ 1994; 309 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.309.6947.103 (Published 09 July 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;309:103
  1. Robert Buckman, medical oncologist Centre for the Study of Complementary Medicine, Southampton SO15 2DT,
  2. George Lewitha, homoeopathic physician
  1. Toronto-Sunnybrook Regional Cancer Centre, 2075 Bayview Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4N 3M5
  1. Correspondence to: Dr Buckman.
  • Accepted 6 June 1994

Robert Buckman, a medical oncologist, and George Lewith, a homoeopathic physician, met in Southampton while filming “Magic or Medicine?,” a television series of four programmes about what can and might be learnt from the popularity of complementary medicine. In particular, the series showed how the effect of the patient's and the doctor's beliefs affected the relationship between them. The two doctors so enjoyed talking with each other that they carried on their debate in letters to each other over the next year. We think that their exchange merits a wider readership.

Dear George,

The profession-wide debate on homoeopathy seems to have polarised into a dispute about evidence and mechanism, and as a result we seem to have lost sight of a separate issue—namely, that of the benefit to the patient. I propose that we divide the debate into two distinct issues. One issue is whether highly diluted extracts prepared by succussion can have an effect on disease processes. The second issue is whether patients feel better when they take homoeopathic remedies. If they do, what does it mean and what should we do about it?

Let me start by describing what I saw when, with the film crew of Magic or Medicine?, I visited your practice in Southampton and watched you taking histories from, examining, talking with, and prescribing for your patients. I said to you at the time that your clinical skills—and particularly your interpersonal skills—were among the best I have ever seen. I also said (and it was not idle chatter) that a video of you in action should be shown to every medical student in the world as an example of what good doctoring looks like. It seemed to me that when I walked into your consulting room the most powerful medication in the room was sitting …

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