By Rogelio Manuel Diaz Moreno
HAVANA TIMES — Imagine you have a health problem. You look for a doctor at a medical institution. They prescribe a treatment and medicine. You buy the bottles indicated, open them and note, with concern, that they only contain water.
It’s not that they prescribed drinking plenty of fluids, which is actually a good course of action in many cases. They’ve told you, rather, that “that” (which has a name and everything) was an effective medication, and that a few drops of it will make you better. Incredulously, you look at the bottle again, taste it again, take it to a lab and confirm it: it’s water – perhaps Evian, Vichy or Ciego Montero – very healthy water, but nothing else.
Whoever prescribed “that” might smugly explain that, indeed, it may look like simple water, but that it’s more than that, as, at some point, it came into contact with more water which in turn came into contact with a different source of water, and that special healing properties – discovered by German Samuel Hanehman in the 18th century – are passed on this way. In short, they want to cure you with homeopathy.
I could respect someone who tells me that certain magic rites confer healing powers on water. I know Christian churches believe in holy water, as do the practitioners of syncretic Afro-Cuban religions. I expect something similar from other belief systems, though I am not aware of the details. All of that is perfectly serious and respectable. They are part of a form of knowledge that may not be scientific but is ultimately human, addressing human emotions and needs. Such feelings occupy a legitimate space and those who do not acknowledge this will have a limited vision of life and its interiorities.
Official medical institutions, however, are not expected to resort to magic. And you can’t change that criticizing Descartes, invoking decolonization or complex thought models.
A bottle of water on a pharmacy shelf is still only a bottle of water.
To claim it has invisible, undetectable properties that nonetheless cure diseases such as leptospirosis and cancer is tantamount to claiming they are magical. We can accept this in a mystical ceremony, but it is unacceptable at a hospital.
So-called natural and traditional medicine stems from a series of mystical insights and practical experience. It has great healing potential, for many reasons. There are many substances in nature – in plants, animals and soils – with healing potential (some are also poisonous, mind you) discovered by curious individuals – sometimes by accident. Then, this knowledge is passed on from generation to generation. What happens is that a laboratory is capable of refining such substances and making them more accessible, efficacious and safe – or does just the opposite, depending on the ethics with which the process is carried out.
The personal interest that a healer devoted to another, a sick person, also has a role in this. It can assume a broad range of forms: songs, prayers, hygienic practices, words of consolation. All of this can have a beneficial effect on the health of the person.
A bottle of water, offered with tenderness, with one hand placed over one’s chest and the other on the forehead of the ailing person, is no longer the same bottle of water. But maintaining that it can cure cancer is another thing altogether.
Contemporary medical institutions may be sorely lacking the personal involvement of specialists in the care of their patients. Mistakes may be made in terms of how modern medicine is administered – owing to negligence, incompetence or the inevitable limitations of human knowledge.
Adding small bottles of water with different colored labels to the mix of possible prescriptions that can be dispensed at a pharmacy isn’t going to solve these problems. On the contrary, it’s going to bring about very serious hazards.
The other day, for instance, Cuba’s minister of health was explaining why there had been a shortage of basic medical supplies. Well, now that those small bottles of water with colorful labels can be legally dispensed at pharmacies, authorities will be constantly tempted, when there’s a shortage of cytostatics, antibiotics or anti-convulsives, to try and force doctors to prescribe the bottles of water. All because some German in the 18th century said that you could cure everything with that and, in the 21st century, four anti-scientific opportunists had their way.
One needn’t prove the validity of magic. It is practiced on the basis of faith, and that is the realization it can bring people. Medicine, which boasts of being scientific, must abide by the rules established by science. The height of absurdity is when the practitioners of homeopathy insist they do abide by these rules and that all others are dogmatic for failing to recognize this.
So as not to overwhelm readers, I will simply point out that, on the Wikipedia page on homeopathy, one can find over 100 scientific sources that have objectively (and without prejudice) studied the said practice. If it had an iota of validity, it would have been revealed by this or similar research. This hasn’t been the case.
If only the discussion could end there. But no, supporters of homeopathy will not allow that. They claim their technique is valid, that the issue is that conventional experimental methods are not suited for its evaluation. This, despite the fact these are the methods that have afforded us a life-expectancy of more than 70 years (in contrast to the meagre 35 we had before).
These methods have prevailed, not because of dogmatism or authoritarianism, but because of their demonstrated ability to detect errors, correct them and perfect itself constantly. Supporters of homeopathy will ask us to adopt a more open mentality, decolonialize ourselves, become metaphysical. They may use more grandiloquent and postmodern names, but what they expect from us is that we accept that a bottle of water does contain something which can best be described as “true magic.”
And they hope to sell it indiscriminately, like any common pharmaceutical product, invoking their alleged virtues with an abundance of rhetoric. They may even try to replace other treatments and medications that have been proven to work through studies that follow the established methodology, with tragic consequences. We’ll just have to remind ourselves, time and time again, that a bottle of water is just that, water. With any luck, it’ll be clean, fresh drinking water.