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Exploring The Boundaries Between Alternative Medicine And Biomedicine

2855 words - 12 pages

Alternative medicine has been considered the “hidden mainstream” of patient care in America. As biomedicine increased in popularity, alternative methods of healing arose as a response to the treatments used by physicians. Historically, alternative (or “complementary”) medicine conveyed itself by highlighting its “natural” attributes. These characteristics attracted those who were wary of the chemicals used in allopathic medicines. Much of the skepticism that has accompanied complementary alternative medicine (CAM) stems from the lack of scientifically-based evidence that shows its efficacy; there is no “alternative” medicine there is simply “unproven” medicine (Fontanarosa and Lundberg 1618). This argument suggests that medicine and healing are inherently scientific and avoids the cultural and spiritual aspects of the healing process. However, alternative medicine has been increasingly incorporated into biomedical practice and more research initiatives are working towards demonstrating its efficacy. An important advancement has been the relationship between allopathic physicians and alternative medicine. Throughout alternative medicine’s history, there have been some physicians who promoted “alternative” treatments. This campaign may have led to further acceptance and use of CAM. In this essay, I will explore the boundaries between alternative medicine and biomedicine, describe the involvement of physicians in alternative practices, and shed some light on the tensions that surround this relationship.
The nineteenth century served as the basis for many types of alternative medicine that have developed into practices still being used in contemporary times. Many of these original alternative practices have involved physicians in two ways. Physicians themselves started some of the healing methods in response to various concerns, such as the realization that alternative medicines might be safer and more effective than the chemicals they prescribed. Other physicians shifted their biomedical beliefs to already existing alternative practice because they believed in a therapy’s efficacy, choosing to adopt other healing methods that they did not learn in medical school.
The founder of homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann, was originally an MD who regularly practiced biomedicine in the late 1700s (Whorton 49). Homeopathic ideology involves treating a disease with cures that produce similar effects as the disease (“same suffering”) as opposed to treating a disease with substances that are meant to produce opposite effects (“allopathy”) (Whorton 52). As Hahnemann progressed in his practice as a physician, he began to lose trust in the worth of the treatments he provided—treatments he had been taught would be effective for their target disease. He claimed that medicine was “founded upon perhapses and blind chance” and were not tailored to cure the diseases of individual patients; medicine saw disease as something finite and similarly experienced across patients with...

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