Homeopathy gains kudos with MSc degree

A landmark in the history of classical homeopathy in Greece has been achieved with a new two-year postgraduate degree in the subject at the University of the Aegean. «It is an historic moment. Homeopathy meets systemic theory. The goal of this master’s course is to give a scientific foundation to homeopathy,» Professor Ioannis Darzentas, who heads the program, explained to the class of students assembled for their first lectures in temporary premises in Ermoupoli, on the island of Syros. The renowned George Vithoulkas, who won the Alternative Nobel Prize in 1996 for upgrading classical homeopathy to the standard of a science, is particularly pleased that such a strong beginning has been made in «such a conservative country as Greece.» «In Romania, Moldova and Estonia there is a plan to raise homeopathy to postgraduate level. I hope this will also happen soon in the West,» he said. The first lecture is «Introduction to Systems Theory – Systemic Thought.» «The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,» says the lecturer, Argyris Arnellos. «In contrast with the mechanistic-analytical approach, according to the systems theory the parts interact with and affect each other… and with the environment.» The 29 enthusiastic postgraduate students from Athens, Thessaloniki, Cyprus, Icaria and Kythera also include two members of the Syros medical community and three dentists. About half are already experienced homeopaths trained by Vithoulkas. The younger among them – including several recent medical graduates – hope to acquire new knowledge and become better doctors. The next lecture is pharmacology, or as it is known in homeopathy, Materia Medica. Names of remedies such as Anacardium or Aurum Metallicum give rise to some confusion and students begin firing questions about reference and library books. The list is long and expensive. The course leads to a master’s degree (MSc) in homeopathy from the university’s Department of Products and Systems Design Engineering. This unusual combination has led to pointed comments. Up until now at university level in Greece, homeopathy is only taught as a subject in Athens University’s School of Pharmacy. Three years ago, the University of the Aegean began a two-year seminar of 400 teaching hours in homeopathy, leading to a certificate of attendance. That has now been replaced by the postgraduate course. The new MSc course only accepts graduates of medical and dentistry schools. As there are no university professors of homeopathy, the faculty consists of homeopathic doctors from Greece and abroad. The main criticisms of the degree course voiced by medical associations and schools in official letters to the Education Ministry and in Internet blogs are that homeopathy has not yet received state recognition as a medical specialization, and that it is being offered by a body that has nothing to do with medical science. They also ask what a regional university faculty has to gain by offering the course, and why the sum of 320,000 euros is being made available for the study of what some say is a «pseudo-science,» and why a student would want to pay 8,000 euros for a postgraduate degree of doubtful value. Vithoulkas and Darzentas had the following answers to those questions: «We knew that we would be facing these criticisms,» said Vithoulkas. «No medical school at any university in Greece had given any indication that it would like to pioneer the field… even though we have treated doctors who are members of medical faculties. But when proposals reached the university senates, they were not welcomed. In any case, perhaps any such effort would be compromised within a medical school that was not able to adopt new ideas. In this particular university, the ground was fertile. When the pharmaceutical firms have something to lose from the spread of homeopathy, they start the erosion process by spreading ideas about magic, about voodoo.» Darzentas said his department was interdisciplinary and fully capable of supporting a master’s degree of this kind. «We have made an in-depth study of systems theories, everything is founded in the whole and in man as a concept. Because homoeopathy has no institutional framework, it has been the victim of opportunism. We can do a great deal both toward constructing an institutional framework and establishing an arena for implementation and research in anthropocentric systems. We will all gain in knowledge. Medicine should worry if we were starting a five-year specialization in homeopathy. A master’s degree is something else,» he said. The budget and expenditure for the course is set out in the founding statement in the Government Gazette (Volume II, 1912, December 29, 2006). «We who are already members of the university faculty are not paid extra. Vithoulkas himself not only does not want to receive a salary, but has made donations to the library,» said Darzentas. «Visiting professors are reimbursed for their travel and accommodation expenses, but how can one recompense them for their time and the hours they have taken out of their practice? They will probably be paid by the hour, but we can’t give them more than the regular rate.» The Government Gazette refers to the possibility of continuing on to a doctorate, without requiring a medical degree. «The doctorate is an incentive for other specializations, it does not give one the right to practice homeopathy. For example, we would like a biologist to be able to study systems theory on holistic systems.» So far, private subsidies have totaled 32,000 euros, which is intended to be used as scholarships. Another criticism, this time leveled at Vithoulkas himself (and which he describes as «below the belt») is that he does not have a medical degree. «I have been involved with homeopathy since 1960 on a 24-hour basis – 47 whole years! Yes, my previous experience is a degree from the ‘little’ technical university, at the age of 11 I was selling cigarettes on the street and high school mathematics was not my best subject. What is my expertise? The fact that I teach so many doctors around the world means that the medicine I know is better than the one they know. You can’t teach scientists if you don’t know your subject.» As for what they have to say about those who decided not to apply: «We hope to persuade them by our results. Happy and fulfilled graduates are the best form of advertising,» said Darzentas. «I would first say that it is a pity that they have missed an opportunity,» said Vithoulkas. Is this degree then an educational qualification without any foundation, or a pioneering innovation? An opportunity for profit and/or one for research, a way of exerting pressure and/or making a contribution to society? «The social dimension is missing from the modern health system. In hospitals there is no bedside manner,» said Darzentas. It is up to the individual to draw his or her own conclusions. (1) This article first appeared in K, Kathimerini’s color supplement, on November 24, 2007.