‘based on many mystical ideas’

Sciencebased Medicine takes on anthroposophic medicine which is scandalously taught at the University of Michigan.

Personally, I think that Robert Carroll gets it right when he characterizes anthroposophic medicine as being “even more out of touch with modern, science-based medicine than homeopathy.” Think about it. Homeopathy is based on just two magical ideas: The Law of Similars and the Law of Infinitesimals, which together can be viewed as an expression of the ancient principles of sympathetic magic. In marked contrast, anthroposophic medicine is based on many mystical ideas. Indeed, anthroposophic medicine resembles more than anything (to me, at least) naturopathy in that there doesn’t appear to be a form of unscientific, prescientific, vitalism-based woo that it doesn’t embrace. In fact, anthroposophic medicine appears to go far beyond naturopathy in that respect. It also brings into play a veritable cornucopia of magical and mystical concepts, such as the etheric body, the astral body, and the ego, postulating that the soul, the senses, and the consciousness are beings that have an independent existence outside of the body, further asserting that herbs, essential oils, and movement therapy known as eurythmy can bring these things into harmony and balance with each other and the physical body. … [A]nthroposophic medicine openly denigrates science-based medicine for only being able to diagnose and treat disease according to its understanding of the laws of physics and chemistry, to which I respond: What else would a physician base his or her understanding of disease upon?

I recommend reading the entire post!

It mentions the resistence to vaccination, the use of mistletoe, and other relevant topics. I’ve written about anthroposophic medicine before.


20 thoughts on “‘based on many mystical ideas’

  1. I am struck by David Gorski, and not just because he is so clearly an asset to blogging/medicine: http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?page_id=224

    “Please note that, through his criticism of pseudoscience and quackery on Usenet, online discussion forums, and blogs over the last decade, Dr. Gorski has managed to anger some supporters of dubious health practices and pseudoscience. As a result, there are a fair number of “alt-med”-friendly bloggers and anti-vaccine activists out there who really, really, really don’t like him, even to the point of posting screeds against him, a few of which even border on being libelous”

    Remind you of anything?

  2. re-posting Diana’s comment –


    “There is one fundamental tenet of anthroposophic medicine not mentioned thus far that is crucial to understanding what anthroposophic physicians are trying to do.

    Anthroposophy is based on karma and reincarnation. Illnesses have karmic explanations; they are often straightforward punishments for transgressions in past lives. Steiner outlined numerous direct karmic meanings; smallpox, for instance, comes from “unlovingness” in a past life. Epidemics occur because large groups of people have shared karma to work out, or shared “spiritual tasks” to accomplish. Suffering is good for the soul. Suffering pain in one lifetime may even make you physically very beautiful in the next life.

    It is particularly important to understand how this works with vaccination. Steiner did not assert unequivocally that vaccination should be avoided, but he did state that since many diseases are karmic, if you avoid the disease by means of vaccination, you are simply postponing the working out of that karma until another lifetime. Many Steiner teachers and Steiner parents logically conclude that it would actually be better for the child to get the disease. “Chicken pox parties” are popular in Waldorf communities, i.e., deliberately exposing children to the disease.

    This is *not* done because “natural healing” is thought to be better. Illness is seen as actually karmically *beneficial*. This is really important to understanding the philosophy. The goal is not necessarily to avoid or treat an illness at all, in the way the rest of us would understand.
    I can provide quotes from Steiner on all these topics a bit later, if desired.

    It’s very important to understand that this form of “medicine” does not necessarily always have the goal of healing the patient. Children who suffer illnesses or die young are thought to have simply completed their life’s “task” in the current lifetime.”

    And she continues. Read it all! As Alicia says.

  3. what will happen as anthroposophy takes on the on-line skeptic Science community, especially Dr Gorski? Will some of the more vocal supporters look around themselves and realise where they are? It’s so positive that this is finally being aired in the US, as well as on DC’s blog.

  4. I’m afraid anthroposophy won’t take it on. Only a few fanatical anthroposophists will, if they manage to. I know of someone who has a website on anthroposophical science and potentization…

    The rest of them will remain silent, ha! I mean, on blogs like SBM.

  5. “I know of someone who has a website on anthroposophical science and potentization… ”

    Hee heee. (Or should I say, Bzzzzz bzzzz)

    I checked back at that blog discussion, and am a little surprised no one seems interested in the karma angle. I thought I was dropping bombshells :)

    I never thought this all the way through before, but I question whether any scheme that includes karma can possibly be compatible with medical ethics. The requirement of physicians to help the patient, alleviate disease, and reduce or eliminate suffering is really absolute; there’s no weasel room. A physician has absolutely no business taking “karma” into account in a treatment plan. If this is disastrous in the classroom, it’s unconscionable in the clinic.

  6. Bzzzzzzzzzzzz bzzzz, indeed!

    That it hasn’t been acknowledged is really surprising — it was such a good explanation of the oddities of anthro medicine, oddities which can’t be explained as the usual alt-med inclination toward what’s ‘natural’ (and other, similar woo-motives). Maybe they didn’t understand how severe the implications are?

    ‘A physician has absolutely no business taking “karma” into account in a treatment plan. If this is disastrous in the classroom, it’s unconscionable in the clinic.’

    One difference is that the patient may be an adult anthroposophist who consents to being treated that way. (Though no tax-funding should be allowed for such treatments, obviously.) Karma in the classroom involves children.

  7. >One difference is that the patient may be an adult anthroposophist who consents to being treated that way

    True. I don’t advocate that anthroposophic … treatments should be outlawed or something. If adults want woo they can have woo. And on rare occasion, “woo” turns out to be useful, after all, and later becomes mainstream. You never know!

    But “medicine” is something specific. Medical doctors have to follow certain professional and ethical codes or there can be severe sanctions. I think there’s a strong case to be made that “anthroposophic” and “physician” are two words that don’t belong together. Let them call themselves anthroposophical “healers” or something. I’m not sure it should be allowed in medicine per se.

    We’ll have anthros screaming that that’s mind control, that we can’t tell doctors what they can believe, or it’s religious discrimination etc. True. But I wonder if there might be a way to legislate that karma cannot be taken into account in a *medical treatment plan*. Or else it actually ISN’T a “medical treatment plan.” Medicine is a profession with a very explicit code of ethics. The belief system of anthroposophic physicians may be at odds with that code.

  8. ‘Medical doctors have to follow certain professional and ethical codes or there can be severe sanctions. ‘

    It surprises me that anthroposophical medical doctors don’t run in to trouble on this account frequently… but somehow they’re exempted from what would apply to anybody else.

    There are, indeed, ethical implications. If it was possible to require that anthroposophical doctors separate the medical side of what they do from the spiritual side, in a way that was transparent and explicit, then it would possibly be easier for these both roles to exist side by side. But I suppose that, due to the nature and the intentions of anthroposophical medicine, this can’t really happen.

    (Have got to run, will be back later…)

  9. ‘that we can’t tell doctors what they can believe’

    Well, they’re right, society (or associations for medical doctors) can’t do that. It can’t decide what doctors or patients believe, but it can decide how medicine is to be practiced by licensed physicians, quality and safety standards, e g. Anthroposophical doctors in Sweden are allowed to practice methods that would be unthinkable for non-anthro doctors; homeopathy, e g, is out of the question. Other doctors would risk losing their license, because it would be considered against the applicable codes. That’s not ok.

  10. I really thought the karma angle was important … but increasingly I think I’m living in my own world there. Isn’t the karma angle central to understanding anthroposophic medicine, especially re: vaccination; what do you guys think, or am I completely ridiculously obsessed on this topic.

  11. no, you’re right – karma is the thing the docs are missing in their discussion.

    Liz Ditz also wrote a comment and took it straight back to American Waldorf schools. I’m sure she won’t mind me reproducing it here:


    “This is wandering bit afield but


    “Oh, we have lots of Waldorf schools on this side of the pond, as well. However, giving public money to private schools is a lot more problematic here, I suspect, than it is in the UK, although certainly lots of legislators, particularly those who want to support religion, sure enough do try by advocating vouchers that can be used at religious schools.”

    It’s more pernicious than that in the US . For many years, the Waldorf Education movement has had an ambitious scheme to open Waldorf charter schools (publicly funded schools with a particular mission or organizational apparatus). The scheme was handicapped for years by litigation from People for Legal and Non-Sectarian Schools (PLANS) a group specifically organized to counter “Waldorf influenced” charter schools.

    Dan Dugan, part of PLANS leadership, wrote a list of “What can be taken from Waldorf” http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/17476 and a much longer list of “What Can Not Be Done In Publicly Funded Waldorf Schools” http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/17597.

    There’s bad news and good news on the Waldorf-influenced charter front: The bad news:

    Alliance for Public Waldorf Education
    *Did you know there are 44 public charter schools inspired by Waldorf education and another 15 new emerging school initiatives?

    The good news: the financial crisis means that most of the “15 new emerging” have stalled for lack of funding.

    Back to the issue of Waldorf & vaccines: no, there’s no public anti-vaccination policy at Waldorf schools. What there is, is incredible peer pressure to cease vaccination for younger students, and never to begin vaccination for subsequent siblings.”

    note she says: no PUBLIC anti-vaccination policy.

  12. Right. The deceitfulness is what makes my blood boil. They fucking do have an anti-vaccination stance, they just don’t make it an official policy – WHY????? In order to hide it. In order to deny it. SIMPLE. They aren’t going to put it in writing and thus be held accountable for it, they’re just going to guilt-trip you if you get your kid vaccinated. When there’s an outbreak of something and the media come around asking questions, Who, us? Us, antivax???? There must be some misunderstanding …

  13. I’ll return later, but @5raphaels just posted this news story:

    ‘Two homeopathic doctors who oppose the MMR vaccine are being blamed for a measles epidemic in a small German town.

    Thirty children have been admitted to hospital in Coburg and it is feared there could be deaths if the infection continues to spiral.

    Two of the town’s seven doctors, who are fierce advocates of homeopathic medicine and oppose the MMR vaccine, are blamed for putting youngsters’ lives in danger by persuading parents not to vaccinate them. The 30 children in hospital have ear, lung and larynx infections brought on by measles.

    Helmet Weiss, head of the state Health Office in Coburg, said: “There are some strong-willed homeopathic doctors in the tow n w ho argue against vaccination. Their stronghold is the Waldorf School, which actively encourages people not to have their children vaccinated. Now we have an epidemic.”‘

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-103856/Alternative-doctors-blamed-German-measles-outbreak.html

  14. Diana: ‘Isn’t the karma angle central to understanding anthroposophic medicine’

    YES! I would say, definitely. It’s relevant on all levels: spiritual etiology as well as long term (next life) consequences, prevention (or not), treatment (or not)…

    Liz Ditz wrote:

    ‘no, there’s no public anti-vaccination policy at Waldorf schools. What there is, is incredible peer pressure to cease vaccination for younger students, and never to begin vaccination for subsequent siblings.’

    Spot on. Same goes for Diana’s comment (https://zooey.wordpress.com/2011/03/14/based-on-many-mystical-ideas/#comment-7778); that’s it, really.

  15. And a great comment by Diana:

    ‘“… integrative medicine has little potential for harm.”

    ‘That’s certainly not true. First, “integrative medicine” involves a wide spectrum of practices and remedies, and if a medical school, or their own doctor, appears to endorse it, patients aren’t necessarily going to go on ALSO seeing their regular physician. It sends the message that these other therapies are viable options. (U of M is sending this message now *institutionally*.) …’


    I also recommend this comment by Michaelinmichigan:
    ‘… my concern is not fully that anthro is non-scientific, I believe that the blend of medicine and spirituality give the doctor an undue influence over the patient’s decision making process. I also believe it is highly questionable, ethically, for them to attempt to play spiritual leader and doctor at the same time.’

    Then there’s this comment:
    and Diana’s reply:

    Michaelinmichigan points to other spiritual traditions which include the belief in karma, and say buddhists vaccinate their children against polio. Saying to Diana:

    ‘You are succinctly stating one of them, apparently followed by some of the anthroposophic folks, but there are other approaches too.’

    But how many proponents of anthroposophy have we heard supporting the approach Michael describes as the buddhist one?

    Anthroposophists often don’t vaccinate against polio. Sweden’s last polio epidemic, in the late 70s, hit only one community; the anthroposophic community in Järna. It will happen again, diseases thought to be eradicated from Sweden will occur again — if there’s a community with low vaccination rates and whose members travel to areas where the disease is still around. (This is what makes me cringe thinking about these ‘youth initiatives’ — young former waldorf students who attends some program or something and goes to impoverished areas to help… or play around… The program based here in Sweden has a collaboration with the anthro clinic. I very much doubt that these young people get the vaccinations they need before they go; and in case they visit ordinary doctor’s or vaccination offices they will be thought crazy. Some vaccines aren’t even carried, you have to go to places for infants, like a pediatrician’s office! I have been told that it isn’t possible to not be vaccinated in Sweden, ‘everyone is vaccinated in school, and of course you were too!’ Bullshit!)

  16. Yes, I thought Michele’s comments were really interesting, and meant to comment on them further but as usual have sort of lost the thread. (Mentally, that is.)

    As for Buddhism and karma, I am slightly less skeptical toward Buddhism than most world religions, but only slightly. I give them credit for doing a lot less harm overall, but that’s not really saying much, is it? I felt, initially seeing Michele’s comment, like “Oh, here we go; like so many people, she can see what’s wrong with something like anthroposophy, but please don’t attack Buddhism ‘cus she’s got good friends who are Buddhist. Whatever!! Why are people so blind” — but then I had to admit, her comments made good sense.

  17. Michele? Oh dear Dog, I read Michael.

    I agree. And as for the Dalai Lama, he’s not exactly beyond criticism as far as I can understand. He may distribute polio vaccines, but really? There’s certainly enough room for wackiness in the buddhist brand of spirituality too.

Comments are closed.