Interview with Dr. James Hawley Stephenson – 1968

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Written by John Duffy

An interview with homeopath Dr. James Hawley Stephenson from 1968. This avid researcher and prolific writer defends homeopathy and shares his experience and knowledge in the politics of medicine.

Dr. James Hawley Stephenson (1919 – 1985) was born in St. Louis, Missouri (U.S.). He was an allopathic physician in New York City, but converted to homeopathy after being cured of abdominal pain by Elizabeth Wright Hubbard. For ten years he served as Editor of the Journal of International Homeopathy and was an active member of the International Hahnemannian Association and was one of the first Diplomates of the Board of Homeotherapeutics.  He did considerable research in homeopathy and published many clinical trials as well as numerous articles.

Dr. Stephenson was interviewed in his office at 66 East 83rd Street, New York, New York, on June 18, 1968. The interviewers were Dr. John Duffy of Tulane University School of Medicine and Dr. Martin Kaufman, his graduate student and research assistant. (The interviewers were allopaths and skeptical of homeopathy)

Q:  Could you start by giving some of your background?

JHS:  When I was a sophomore medical student at Cornell, through a series of coincidences, I found out about homeopathic medicine. Dr. Elizabeth Hubbard’s name was given to me as a homeopathic physician, which I recorded and more or less forgot about. Then I got acute appendicitis in the middle of my sophomore year, and did not wish particularly to lose a few weeks through an operation, so I thought I would try homeopathy. She gave me a remedy, and overnight the symptoms went away, and this made me quite interested. I was probably more open-minded than the average physician in this direction, because 1 had gone into medicine late, after five years in the army, and I had some background in various philosophic systems which are to some extent coincident with homeopathy.

Q:   Where did you study medicine?

JHS:  I am a graduate of Cornell Medical College. I did a year’s internship and then I went right into a homeopathic preceptorship with Dr. Hubbard for three years. Before that I had attended the postgraduate course of the American Foundation for Homeopathy between my sophomore and junior year in medical school.

Q: And you are in general practice right now?

JHS: I see people of all ages and sexes. But I am really rather highly specialized in that the therapies I use when I give medicines are always homeopathic. In addition to homeopathy, I have some background in nutrition. I worked for the New York City Bureau of Nutrition for ten years.

Q:  What about the concept of dilution, the assumption that the less of the drug, the better. How do you feel about this?

JHS:  Well, here again it is not so much a matter of feeling, Hahnemann introduced the use of medicines in very high dilution, as I am sure you are aware, around the early 1800’s. And homeopathic physicians have been using this now for many, many years, and they have had abundant clinical evidence that this is effective. The recent work on nuclear magnetic resonance and some work done in England and France has indicated that, indeed, the high dilutions do exist physically, and that it is not only a matter of dilution, but the dynamization, consisting of succussion and trituration appears to be a vital factor.

Medicines are homeopathic in the manner in which they are used, not in the manner in which they are prepared. The medicine can truly only be called homeopathic if it has been tested on a healthy person, its symptoms recorded, and if the physician then gives that medicine to a patient who presents symptoms similar to the so-called proving symptoms; this renders the medicine homeopathic. It just happens that homeopathic physicians introduced this method of preparing medicine into science, and it has really been tragic that it has remained in the homeopathic field so long and has not been taken up by other scientists for work in this, area.

Q:  In testing out the doctrine of similars, what assurance have we that people will respond collectively to it?

JHS:  Well, you are arguing theoretically about something that is a scientific fact. People do respond collectively, and anyone who has done provings with homeopathic medicine knows this. I have done many provings.  In addition, to that, you have probably seen this book of mine which is the only summary of recent provings. In order to write that, I had to go back into all literature and check the original proving records. And it is a fact that you can give an unknown substance to fifty or a hundred people and a significant number of those people will all get the same symptoms without any collusion.

Homeopathy is a rather pragmatic thing. It does work. Let me give you an example. I just gave a dose of arnica to a lady in Greenwich who has had a bursitis now for two years, and she has been to everybody you can think of for this. She has had no contact with homeopathy. She didn’t even know what I gave her. And her shoulder is now fifty percent better than it has been in two years, and she had the best of so-called orthodox care.

Now this is only one example out of thousands I could give, and which any homeopathic physician’s practice is full of. And after one is exposed to this kind of thing one has to accept homeopathy as a pragmatic science. And of course the counterpoise that it is my psychosomatic power that suggests this—man, if I’m that powerful as a suggestor – hypnotist, Mesmer is a pipsqueak by comparison. And to imply that all homeopathic physicians are supermen—their ability to suggest health into patients—and not to apply an equal superhuman quality to non-homeopathic colleagues, again, is scientifically incorrect.

Q: To what extent has any testing of homeopathic remedies been done under, let us say, controlled circumstances?

JHS:  My reaction to this is, would it be of value in treating animals? It is, believe me. Animals are my best patients. I am a real general practitioner. I am a Dr. Doolittle. I have probably on the average here fifty assorted dogs and cats that are patients. Often these animals are medicated without even their knowledge. Sometimes I don’t even see them. I will have some anxious patient say, “So-and-so has been given up to die by a local vet. Is there something I can give from the kit?” I will have this patient give this animal medicine from a kit which they have. Now the animal will get better. I wish my human patients responded as consistently as my animal patients. I have treated cancers in dogs and cats successfully, where a cancer is a very hard thing for me to treat in humans. So whenever one gets into this psychological thought transference business with homeopathy—to me this completely invalidates it.

Q:  Would it be possible to briefly summarize clinical investigation of the type of research that is being done in homeopathy? (This question is asked in 1968)

JHS:  First of all, we would have to talk about different aspects of homeopathic research. The whole business of double-blind, random sampling, etc. has never been done in homeopathy. One of the reasons for this is because the homeopathic medicines are not diagnostically specific, they are patient specific. Therefore, it would be very hard to find five hundred casually selected patients all of whom were indicated by the same homeopathic medicine for a particular diagnosis. So this really mitigates against that kind of human testing. I don’t think that homeopathic physicians are that anxious to prove the effectiveness of homeopathy to their non-homeopathic colleagues. I don’t really think we are ardently in the missionary business.

Professor W. John Boyd of the Department of Biochemistry at Hahnemann Medical School, who is doing a great deal of work in muscle enzyme chemistry has done some work with Veratrum album alkaloids in homeopathic solutions to see what effect they have on muscle enzyme systems. This really is the first good research on the high dilutions at the academic level which has existed in the history of American homeopathy, save for a little bit at New York Homeopathic Hospital which he did on fruit flies, which was very provocative. He showed that by using high dilutions of triturate of the fruit fly, and also Arsenican album he could alter a genetic predisposition in red-eyed fruit flies to a genetically determined cancer. So that beyond a certain point this particular breed of fruit fly, which when untreated, would have a spontaneous incidence in a hundred percent, were stopped from having this. And if the high dilutions can effect genetically determined cancer, the biological application of this is obvious. But this was in the 1920’s, and like most homeopathic research of that period, it appeared solely in one of the homeopathic journals. This, I think, is an important point for the record. Most homeopathic physicians are clinicians, and they are involved primarily in treating sick people. They are not research people in orientation or training. In the past, any research that has been done has been largely proving, or largely some clinical application of homeopathy.

JHS: Dr. Stephenson comments on the American Medical Association’s  (A.M.A.) impact on the demise of homeopathy in the U.S.

At a certain state in the development of the power of the American Medical Association (A.M.A.) as soon as they got the Flexner report which was purely advisory under the Carnegie Foundation, it was first made the basis for licensure examination by the state of Alabama, and from then on other states accepted this A.M.A, classification. Really this was the end of therapeutic freedom in this country, because it meant that the states were accepting the criteria of a political medical organization, for all admissions to medical licensure. The A.M.A was very clever. They didn’t push their gun too far. They were playing for cooperation with the homeopathic group, and bit by bit by bit they used their political leverage more until in the 30′ s—and you will never find this anywhere in writing, but I have been told this verbally by many of the older homeopathic group who were involved at that level of decision at the time it happened—representatives from the A.M.A. went to places like  Hahnemann, and said, “If you continue teaching homeopathy on an undergraduate level, you will lose your Class A rating.” And if they lost their Class A rating, it would have meant that their graduates could no longer be accepted for state licensure examinations.  So they knuckled under. And this really, I think, was one of the major causes of the demise of homeopathy in this country.

JHS: Dr. Stephenson comments on the politics of medicine at that time.

Dr. William Bentley Griggs is the grand old man of homeopathy in the Philadelphia area. He is ninety something, blind and half deaf I believe, and has a fourth wife who really rides herd on him. He is the oldest living graduate of’ a Homeopathic Medical School. He was in charge of the Hering Proving Laboratory in Philadelphia, and has done more provings than anyone else in this country, alive or dead. Anyway, Dr. Griggs was thrown off as Director of this Hering Laboratory back in the twenties or thirties because they were doing homeopathic provings. This was at Hahnemann. And Dr. Griggs told me— and he practically cries when he says it—that when he was removed from that post his records were seized by the University and destroyed, and a number of very valuable provings which he had already conducted were lost.

I think anyone with any knowledge of medicine, shouldn’t be too surprised that medical innovators were treated in this manner. Now, I would assume that Hahnemann as a homeopathic college with presumably a homeopathic board of trustees, while it might submit to subtle pressure or direct pressure, in terms of licensing its graduates—I can understand that this conceivably could be the case. On the other hand, why should they wish to destroy evidence that might justify homeopathy?  Because they didn’t wish to justify it. They wished to kill it. And I think with a little thought we can understand why this is.

One has to go back to the fact that homeopathy is a clinical specialty. And as soon as a group of clinicians start to get into the hospital and medical school business they are forced to hire non-clinicians. And since the non-clinicians are committed to a full-time life with the institution, whereas the clinicians spend only part of their life in the institution—a large-part of their life is in their office—automatically there develops a separation of interest. The full-time non-clinicians—the pathologists, the radiologists, the physiologists, the anatomists, the pharmacologists, etc., are non-homeopathic in training. They really are non-homeopathic in interest because they are not clinicians. Only the clinician really would be interested in homeopathy. They are committed to an institutional way of life. They have a close bond with their scientific colleagues-who couldn’t care less about homeopathy, and homeopathy becomes an embarrassment for them, and becomes a professional deterrent because they are subjected to the kind of academic ‘looking-down-noses’ that the world of Academia is full of, and to be a professor of Anatomy at Hahnemann Medical College means automatically you are on a lower rung of the ladder professionally than the same fellow that you went to get your Ph.D. in Anatomy with, who happened to be a professor at Harvard, Yale, or Cornell.

And when the eventual push for power comes between clinicians and the non-clinicians in a hospital or an institution, and when they start to jockey for political pressure with the trustees who run it, it is just a matter of time before the non-clinicians win out. And as soon as the non-clinicians win out, then homeopathy becomes a dirty word. And this has been the case at every homeopathic medical school I know of in this country.

Q : At Flower Hospital?  

JHS:  Flower, certainly. William Gutmann’ was professor at Flower. I was on the staff. Dr. Hubbard was on the staff. We were all thrown out because we were homeopaths. They never say it, you know. They just discontinue your appointment after a certain period of time. But we knew darned well it was because we were homeopaths. We were all good scientists. If we had chosen to do the orthodox kind of thing we would probably be professors, or heads of our departments. So, I think this is just human nature; scientists are human beings. And I think this is the climate which has produced in this country the atrophy of homeopathy.

Historically, I think it was the result of two most unfortunate things, which were, unique to the United States. Number one, the formation of homeopathic medical schools.  I don’t think this ever should have been done. Homeopathy should have been kept as a postgraduate specialty for duly licensed and trained physicians, which was always the case in Europe.  And number two, the most unfortunate example of accepting the sectarian opinion as to a medical school from a sectarian group like the A.M.A. by official state legislatures. Again, this is unique to this country. In all other countries, any graduate of a medical school is accepted for a licensure examination, as far as I know. In fact, in many countries if you graduate from a medical school you automatically get a license. This whole business of having to take state licenses and the lack of reciprocity between them is pretty much an American phenomenon.

So I feel these two factors, unique to this country, were the roots of the destruction of American homeopathy.  It is rather ironic in this country that boasts about its individual liberty and freedom that we still have the strictest medical licensure laws.

Q:  During the early 1950’s there was a movement within homeopathy to gain acceptance as a therapeutic specialty within the A.M.A . What are your feelings on this?

JHS:  I was very much in favor of it. As a matter of fact I was one of the persons who suggested this. I didn’t think it would ever happen, but I thought we might as well make the effort. The A.M.A. had ceased to oppose homeopathy in the 1890’s, or whenever it was. Before then, no member of a homeopathic organization could be elected to membership in a county A.M.A. organization. So really, tacitly the A.M.A. accepted homeopathy then. And in its official pronouncements, save for some self-elected prophets like Morris Fishbein, the A.M.A. did not make any statements against homeopathy. But the concept of homeopathy as a specialty is not something the A.M.A. has ever accepted, and I didn’t think they ever would.

Q:  What are your personal relations with the A.M.A. and both state and local societies?

JHS: I do not belong to any of these organizations for many reasons. Number one, I do not approve of their basic policies. I belonged to them briefly when I was on the staff of Flower, because here again, one has to belong to the A.M.A. before you can have a hospital appointment.

Q:  Does this exclude you from practically all hospitals?

Yes. I have no hospital appointments, but I don’t need it. As a homeopathic physician, I try to keep people out of the hospitals. Even when I was on the staff there, I didn’t use it that much. In a way, it always griped me to have compromised my principles for that, because I did not approve of the A.M.A.’s code of ethics. I think it is completely medieval and it is futile. And you can’t honestly belong to the State Society and not support the code of ethics. Plus the fact that you are subject to censorship by the A.M.A. If you belong to the Society and say something they don’t approve of, then you are called on the carpet. So for all these reasons I choose not to belong to it. I like to be in a position where I can do and say as I wish.

In England the position is that the State has the right to require that anyone who uses a certain title have certain qualifications, but they do not feel that it is the order of the State to deny any person from having any kind of therapy that they wish, as long as that person is aware of the qualifications of the therapist. But in this country because of the big brother attitude—however in God’s-name that got started here—suddenly the government is in the business of interposing itself between the citizen and his right to have a therapy, and the government is the one who is saying, “You, citizen, can have only these therapies which we approve, and these other therapies which we don’t approve are denied you.” And the FDA is merely continuing this kind of oppressive control in its handling of medicines and drugs now.  I don’t know how the United States, “The land of the free, and the home of the brave,” has gotten to this phase of medical practice.

Q: How do you think homeopathic education should be conducted?  On the undergraduate level, graduate course, or.,.?

JHS: Well, 1 think it should be conducted just like any therapeutic education. Ideally there should be undergraduate courses in it, presented in an unbiased manner, factually, and there should be good graduate programs in it, in institutions.  I was with Dr. Hubbard for three years. I must have been with her sixty or seventy hours a week. One really learns the art of medicine this way. And since homeopathy is largely a clinical art, one doesn’t really need a lot of laboratory basis to practice it. One can learn it in this manner. This is the way psychoanalysis is taught. The medical sciences which are really clinical can be learned through preceptorships. The ones which are largely experimental or surgical—those need, residencies. And it is not coincidental that the first medical residencies in this country were introduced at John’s Hopkins in the Department of Surgery, because’ surgeons are committed to institutional training. Clinicians are not. In fact, I think institutional training is bad for clinicians in many ways, because it teaches a kind of impersonal relationship with patients which institutions have, but which one cannot have in a doctor’s office.

Q: Do you think that the trend within medical science has been towards or away from the ideals of homeopathy?

JHS:  Well, homeopathy is not standard medical practice. Let’s say that, as it is, avowed medical therapy has incorporated unto itself elements from many, many facets of homeopathy. I have a paper on this “The Homeopathic Pharmacology” in which I relate the basic elements of homeopathy, and then their historical inclusion into the body of medicine one by one. So I would say that most of the basic elements that have made up the practice of homeopathy have already been included by physicians, by so-called orthodox medicine, without any recognition of their source or acknowledgement of their source.

Q:  Such as?

JHS:  Such as Pasteur’s work. Did you read that nice little quote of mine from Behring on Pasteur, on which he said that Pasteur was practicing homeopathy? Pasteur’s basic principles represented homeopathy, so what better word to call it than homeopathy? The use of a highly attenuated substance to prevent the illness which it would produce in the healthy—what is this but homeopathy? And Behring had guts enough to stand up and say this in front of one of the major medical congresses In Europe. Homeopathy doesn’t have any monopoly on the similar principle. This has been kicking around for a long time. The Vedic physicians delineate this thoroughly, as did the Greeks, but Hahnemann first engineered this into a sophisticated medical therapeutics. The only unique principle of homeopathy is the succussion of medicines. Even the use of serial dilutions has been used by other physicians, but the introduction of succussion by Hahnemann was historically unique as far as I know. Suddenly he just announced it, in an issue of the Organon, around 1806 or 1815.  He didn’t succuss his original medicines, although they were all triturated, I suppose, but the business of hand succussion came in later. And where he got it from he didn’t say.  Succussion appears to be an important part of it. The nuclear magnetic resonance work was done on succussed and unsucussed things, and the unsuccussed dilutions did not have nearly the effect that the succussed ones did. But, interestingly enough, they still had some effect.

I think one has to take things in their historical framework, and orthodox medicine doesn’t really accept such things. Medicine is made up of a continuing series of discoveries, each standing on the shoulders of the other. Some of the outstanding discoveries have represented re-discoveries of things which people had said before, and then were gone. After all, Einstein’s relativity physics really represents the application of good mathematics to a kind of relativistic philosophy which you can find in the Vedas and the Upanishads, and Plato. This is a relativistic way of viewing things. But Einstein gave it mathematical formulation. Hahnemann gave practical engineering formulation to the concept of similar treatment which had been kicking around for a long time. The concept of individualization as opposed to generalization.

The concept of using natural medicines as opposed to synthetic medicines, again certainly is not unique to homeopathy. Pharmacology in the West has moved from a period primarily concerned with chemical, unnatural substances until now, by and large, the average pharmaceutical research organization is spending a large part of their efforts investigating botanical substances. So we are right back into botany and natural substances again.

Q:  What do you think the prospects of homeopathy are? Does homeopathy have a future?

JHS: Does homeopathy have a future?  Well what do you mean by future?  Do you mean will it increase in number, or maintain its numbers? I would hope that we can maintain a certain number of practicing homeopaths. Certainly as long as I am alive homeopathy will exist in New York City. I am good for a few more years. And there are a few people in their forties scattered around the country. Dr. Henry N. Williams in Pennsylvania, Dr. Panos in Washington, Allen Neiswander in Los Angeles. So, through us, it is good for another twenty, thirty, or forty years. If it reaches a point where there are just five or ten practitioners in the country, it will still be in existence through our efforts. The larger cities I think, probably always will have homeopathic practitioners. One needs a large population to practice something like homeopathy, because it is so specialized. So in terms of its continuing to exist as a practice I think it will.

If the research work goes along well, I think this could produce a regeneration of homeopathy in this country and indeed throughout the world. If suddenly a large amount of money became available, then even clinical research could be done. Because then all you need is one department and one University, who is going to run some good controlled clinical tests on homeopathy.

So far homeopathy has not had that kind of money available. We always manage to antagonize our wealthy people. John D. Rockefeller, Sr. was homeopathic. Sure. You know he died when he was about 95 because his (homeopathic ) physician, Dr. Austin, wasn’t around, or that is what they say. He was down in Florida and got another heart attack and got pumped full of digitalis and died. But John D., Jr., who I guess wasn’t too happy with his father, hates homeopathy. He went out of his way to oppose it. He wouldn’t even hear the word around the house. So, after John D., Sr. died, that was the end of the Rockefeller’s association with homeopathy. John D, sure, he would be treated homeopathically, but when he was investing money with his interest in petroleum, which was making synthetic medicines, he set up the Rockefeller Foundation not to investigate homeopathy, but to investigate things that were going to put money in his pocket.

This demonstrates one of the big problems with homeopathy. It is very cheap, and we do not live in a culture where things that are cheap do well. Something that is cheap and simple, where you can treat people without a lot of x-rays, without a lot of blood tests, where you can treat them in an office without sending them to some hospital, where you can give them benefits even if you have not done a diagnostic work-up, or if you don’t honestly know what caused their trouble—our culture is out of step with this kind of thing. People don’t really like that. They want to go to the hospital and be stuck, and have the x-rays, and go home and say they spent three hundred dollars to get over something. Of course this is traditional in medicine itself.

Excerpted from an interview in the U.S National Library of Medicine;cc=oralhist;rgn=main;view=text;idno=2935125r

About the author

John Duffy

John Duffy (1915–1996) was an American medical historian. Epidemics in Colonial America, The Rudolph Matas History of Medicine in Louisiana (2 volumes) Sword of Pestilence and The New Orleans Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1853 (1966), A History of Public Health in New York City (2 volumes, 1968, 1974), The Tulane University Medical Center: 150 years of medical education (1984) and The Sanitarians, A History of American Public Health (1990), The Healers (1976). That book describes the rise of modern medicine in the United States. In 1991 the American Association for the History of Medicine gave Duffy its Lifetime Achievement Award for the History of Medicine.

1 Comment

  • I enjoyed this interview with Dr James Haley Stephenson, who did such nice job of characterizing the state of medicine in the U.S. ” The big brother attitude that the government is interposing itself between the citizen and his right to have a therapy”.” And the FDA is continuing this oppressive control. “I don’t know how the United States, “The land of the free, and the home of the brave,” has gotten to this phase of medical practice.”
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