Interview with Dr. James Hawley Stephenson – 1968

Last modified on August 18th, 2017

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 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.

About the author

John Duffy

Dr. John Duffy of Tulane University School 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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