Intended for healthcare professionals


Restoring the soul of medicine

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: (Published 20 January 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:0

Restoring the soul of regular medicine


It is a great pity that Peter Morrell insists on contaminating the
discussion on alternative healing systems by suggesting a conflict between
it and regular medicine. Such a conflict need not exist.

Regular medicine is anchored in science and factuality, alternative
healing methods are part of cultural constructs and belief systems and
provide meaning and morality, but cannot be pitched against regular,
scientific medicine. It could be argued that homeopathy, ayurveda,
traditional Chinese medicine and other healing systems have a higher
degree of truth, that they may offer more sustainable remedies for wounds
of the heart or of the soul (provided the patients and the healer share
the same value system) but their tenets are not generalisable and are not
anchored in science. The two areas of experience do not overlap in the
external world*, but are integrated only in the heart and mind of the
individual doctor and patient.

The growth of alternative 'medicine' in developed countries can be
partly explained by the fact that any sufferer choosing alternative
therapies knows that the proven remedies of regular medicine remain
available to them if something 'goes wrong' or 'does not work'. This is
particularly true in the UK, where access to regular medicine is free.

As a mere thought, not a practical suggestion: should users of
alternative healing methods in this country be told that by so choosing
they exclude themselves from access to regular medicine?

Yours sincerely,

Reinhard Wentz

*Gould,SJ: Rocks of ages. Science and religion in the fulness of
life. London: 2001 passim

Competing interests: No competing interests

21 May 2001
Reinhard Wentz
Medical Librarian
Imperial College, Chelsea & Westminster Hospital