By Aina Marti, PhD Candidate in Comparative Literature, University of Kent
The study of homeopathy in Spain is going under a period of challenges as many institutions, which offer postgraduate studies in homeopathy, are facing strong pressure to cancel their courses due to, what the medical establishment calls, lack of scientific proof. Last March 2016, the University of Barcelona was surrounded by polemics regarding the cancellation of its MA in Homeopathy, which had been running for thirteen years, alleging reasons of ‘lack of scientific base’. Soon after, the Spanish College of Physicians cancelled its homeopathic studies after having been active for twenty-five years.
The University of Cordoba and the University of Sevilla did also cancel their courses on homeopathy in 2013 and 2009 respectively. The University of Barcelona received pressure especially from both the Spanish State Office of Public Health as well as from the School of Medicine of the same university, even a student from Chemistry collected more than 1000 signatures to demand the cancellation of the MA stating that homeopathy is a farce. Of course, the student did not mention, or he may even ignore, the lack of scientific evidence in the prescription of many illnesses such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Pressure is also found in public opinion as many Spanish newspapers reported the case positively, stating for example that ‘in more than two centuries, homeopathy has not been proved to be more efficient than a dose of water with sugar’ (El País)1. In line with this approach, ‘placebo’ is another word highly used by the media when referring to homeopathic effects.
Valérie Poinsot, director of French Grupo Boiron, a company that produces and distributes homeopathy in Spain, and funded the MA at the University of Barcelona, stated that there is ‘a media attack against homeopathy in Spain never seen before’. However, polls show that one out of four Spaniards think homeopathy is efficient or very efficient. In an interview for this article, Gonzalo Fernández Quiroga, President of the Homeopathic Academy of Barcelona, told us that almost 15 million people in Spain consume homeopathy regularly, and the 88% of homeopathy consumers say to be very satisfied with the results, and would recommend its use.
In Spain, homeopathy was regulated and legalized as another kind of medicine in December 2013, and was considered proper medicine, and not pseudo-medicine2. The 2013 legislation meant the settlement of a temporal regulation that started in 19943, when it became legal to sell homeopathic products in pharmacies. Although homeopathy has never been covered by Social Security as is the case in countries such as Switzerland. Thus, regardless of the polemics surrounding the teaching of homeopathy in universities, homeopathy as such is still under legal cover. In fact Dr Fernández Quiroga is highly positive and confident about the development of homeopathic practices in Spain, although there is a strong campaign against coming not only from medicine itself but other professions, from lawyers ITs.
The question is then, how in such a short period of time, and regarding the popularity of homeopathy among the general public, has homeopathy become a target within the medical field? A quick look at the many articles that reported the situation and polemics of homeopathy both in regards to its institutionalized study, and its practice show an emphasis on benefits. Most of the media try to convey the idea that homeopathy is a dirty business with the only aim at providing benefits for its producers, Boiron among them. An explanation to this attack could be that the pharmaceutical industry has found a dangerous competitor. There is no mention of the benefits of the pharmaceutical companies, which are far higher than those generated by homeopathy. And it is this very difference in benefit between homeopathic and other pharmaceutical products that makes Dr Fernández to believe that the attack against homeopathy does not come from an economic issue. It is not clear also if pharmaceutical companies and biochemical labs are monitoring this propaganda. Although there are some instances that support the potential leading role of the pharmaceutical industry in making pressure over which kind of products to be proscribed by doctors. Rumours also talk about the influence of some important labs but Dr Fernández insists that there are no proves for that.
Finally, the ideological aspect behind the fights against homeopathy is a reflection worth considering. Ultimately, at stake here is a particular conception of the human being. While natural medicine has an holistic approach to the subject, conventional medicine has traditionally been strongly influence by Cartesian philosophy and positivism. Those consider the human being rather mechanically, and understand the body constituted by parts rather than forming a whole. Emotions, feelings, and experiences are taken in by the homeopathic doctor, who sees a physical problem partly as symptom of subjective and interior issues. However, in his positive attitude, Dr Fernández states that biochemical progress is supporting the holistic theory. A change of paradigm, then, seems to be appearing although amid struggles.