The scientific merits of homeopathy are hotly debated. Protagonists can lean toward other kinds of evidence to make their case for homeopathy’s value. One hears that the Queen of England’s physician is a homeopath. Another kind of value-by-association evidence, from the same part of the world, is offered to anchor this glamorous positioning: homeopathy is a covered service in the UK’s less expensive government-funded system.
In the last month, these ancillary arguments for homeopathy have been twice summarily rejected. The first was the final withdrawal in a long goodbye to homeopathy from the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). It followed an April bombshell when the Royal London Hospital of Integrated Medicine – formerly the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital – ended homeopathic treatment.
Now, according to this August 7, 2018 article, Bristol, England’s “clinical commissioning group decided to end NHS-funded homeopathic treatment.” The service had been available since 1852. With the action, the last medical outpost in England for patients to routinely access covered homeopathic services was gone. For some this was an unjust loss of what they experienced as valuable treatment. The action untied a powerful knot – a loss of mooring for homeopathic advocates globally.
The second rejection came 8 days later in the horrid form of the sudden death of Peter Fisher, MD, the 67-year-old “Physician to the Queen.” Since 2002, Fisher had responsibilities for homeopathic treatment for the Royal family. On his bike ride to work on a England’s “Cycle to Work Day”, Fisher was just a block from the Royal London Hospital where he’d worked for 35 years as rheumatologist and homeopath when he was slammed by a truck and died on the spot. The “Queen’s Physician” – as he was known in UK’s popular press – was gone.
Coverage of homeopathy might one day come back. Fisher won’t. His presence was huge for the field. He was the best-known advocate for homeopathy globally. A fellow of the UK College of Physicians since 1997, he was recently named chair of the faculty of homeopathy at the Royal London Hospital. Fisher chaired the World Health Organisation’s working group on homeopathy.
Fisher’s influence reached beyond homeopathy. He was a member of the WHO’s top global panel on traditional medicine. The following snapshot of him at work in key convenings, sharing information, and linking communities begins to suggest his zones of influence.
In late August 2017, Fisher spoke on the global movement for complementary and integrative medicine in Cartagena, Colombia. Before him in his keynote session was a historic gathering of over 2000 integrative-oriented medical doctors. The prior month he’d been in South Korea where he participated in a small, invitational WHO traditional medicine meeting. There he’d learned of a new branding for the WHO’s traditional medicine unit that is a big deal for the global integrative health movement. Fisher broke the news to the attendees that the WHO unit would soon have a broader, more inclusive purpose. From its sole focus on “traditional medicine,” it would now move under the banner of “traditional, complementary and integrative medicine.” FIsher’s announcement was from an inner sanctum of WHO machinations, smoke rising above the Vatican.
An obituary for Fisher captured his roles as visionary, as defender and as target in the frequently bitter and polarized battle for the future of his field:
“He was also always ready to defend homeopathy against its critics who sometimes dismissed him as a quack. ‘There is huge prejudice,'[Fisher] said. ‘There is prejudice and persecution which actually seems to have originated in the UK for various psycho-social-geopolitical reasons. And one interpretation of the current situation is that it is the early stages of a scientific revolution, when you get a reaction. Homeopathy is persecuted because it is a new paradigm that is threatening the established order, a scientific revolution.'”
Here across the Atlantic the waves off these actions in the UK will be felt by a homeopathy community that finds itself under the most serious challenges in decades. Regulatory moves by both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are disturbing its position in US healthcare law. Homeopathy is looking down the barrel of regulation as a conventional drug that the dietary supplement community faced 25 years ago. With the backing of US Senators Orrin Hatch and Tom Harkin and others, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act became the legislated solution for those natural products.
Neither homeopathy’s former position at the NHS, nor Fisher’s with the Queen, seems to have swayed federal regulators. Action to shift the FTC/FDA course for the field’s future will require popular organizing and potentizing of some key elected officials. With these developments in the UK, homeopathy’s advocates must advance their cause without these two practical and glamorous units of case-making to fire up the base and engage decision-makers.