When Getting Arrested for Practicing Medicine without a License is a Good Thing

04/28/2016 02:22 pm ET Updated Apr 28, 2017

"The Constitution of this Republic should make special provision for medical freedom as well as religious freedom. To restrict the art of healing to one class of men and to deny equal privileges to others will constitute the Bastille of medical science. All such laws are un-American and despotic"

-- Attributed to Benjamin Rush, MD, A Founding Father and Signer of the Declaration of Independence (New World Encyclopedia)

On May 5, 1976, I was arrested for practicing medicine without a license, making this date in 2016 my 40th anniversary of this arrest.

I have been a serious student and practitioner of homeopathic medicine since I began studying it in 1972 with a group of three MDs, two nurses, a dentist, two yoga teachers, and several others met weekly over a five year period.

In 1976, the California Medical Board decided to investigate me after they received a letter from a libertarian who asserted that I was practicing a type of "quack medicine" called homeopathy, that I hung-out with people involved in "yoga and bioenergetics and the like," and that I preyed upon "Berkeley types." Although libertarians are known to be against medical licenses laws and many other forms of governmental regulation, some libertarians seem to want regulation when it suits their personal beliefs and worldviews.

An undercover agent came to my home-office for an appointment, and for the first time in my life, I asked this man if he is affiliated with any law enforcement agency, but I didn't give him time to answer by asserting, "You know I'm not a doctor. Please come into my office."

He told me that he had had chronic eczema for which conventional doctors have prescribed X-ray treatment without success (too bad that they didn't arrest his doctor for this dangerous medical quackery?). He also had had a chronic nasal discharge for which various rounds of antibiotics had not provided relief (more conventional quackery).

I prescribed a homeopathic medicine for him called "Nux vomica," a medicine that I prescribed to help detoxify him from the many conventional medical treatments he has received. I told him to come back in a week. He arrived a week later, and he told me that he had been having a fever for a couple of days. Although he may have been just feigning a fever in order to get me to prescribe treatment for him during a specific illness, I told him that this may be good healing response to Nux vomica and that he should go home and come back a week later.

He came back a week later, without a fever, and based on the totality of his varied symptoms, I prescribed an unusual homeopathic medicine that was developed by Dr. Edward Bach, a bacteriologist who had been shown by a homeopathic physician that homeopathic medicines can change the bacterial composition of the large intestines. Impressed by these results, Bach began investigating homeopathy, and he also began to make in homeopathic doses of some of the bacteria in the bowel. One of the bacteria is called Morgan Pure, and I gave this medicine to the man who was an agent for the medical board. Ironically (or cosmically), I ultimately gave him a homeopathic dose of shit.

After my arrest, a group of fellow natural medicine practitioners and appreciators created an organization called the "Holistic Health Organizing Committee" (unlike other organizations from the '60s and '70s that called themselves "Defense Committees," we had no interest or desire to seem "defensive" and preferred to think of our work as "pro-active" and "educational"). To raise $5,000 for my legal expenses, the group organized three "holistic health retreats" over an 18-month period at Harbin Hot Springs (in Lake County in Northern California). Ultimately, $6,000 was raised, and we used that extra money to create the first holistic health journal called "The Holistic Health Review."

The Court Case and Its Aftermath

A trial date was set for April 10, 1977, which to me was quite an auspicious date because it was the birthday of Samuel Hahnemann, MD (1755-1843), the founder of homeopathic medicine. As it turned out, two weeks prior to the court date, my lawyer, Jerry Green, worked out a settlement with the medical board. Green was a malpractice attorney and a bodyworker who found that a significant part of the malpractice crisis resulted from people expecting more from doctors than they could provide. His solution to deal with this problem was the use of contracts between patients and practitioners that stipulated specific roles and responsibilities for each in the health care relationship.

The old view of doctor/patient relationships was that the doctor provided the treatment and the patient didn't do anything except to take whatever medication the doctor prescribed. However, the emerging holistic health revolution not only heralded the use of various alternative treatment methods, it also strongly encouraged the person (who isn't just a "patient") to take an active role in his/her health. The use of a contract in health care was a totally new concept, though it fit in with the emerging realization that each person has a role, even a vital role, in his/her own health care.

The legal settlement that the court accepted allowed me to continue to maintain a "health practice" as long as I referred patients to medical doctors for "diagnosis and treatment of disease" (a practice in which I had already done). Instead of diagnosing or treat a disease, my role was to treat the person, not a disease. The settlement also stipulated that I use a contract that detailed the roles and responsibilities that each patient had in our relationship and the specific role that I had in prescribing homeopathic medicines.

This legal settlement was a clever and creative way to deal with a complex health care subject. In the meantime, the California Medical Board changed its name to The Board of Medical Quality Assurance, and they invited non-physicians to be a part of this board. Then, in 1980, they made their #1 priority to change the law on which I was arrested. I was then hired as a consultant to the medical board as they participated in a series of conferences on health care decision-making and medical ethics. Ultimately, the medical board's report recommended many of my proposals. However, shortly after its publication, Governor Jerry Brown completed his second term, and a new Republican governor was taking over.

No effort was initially made to change the "Medical Practices Act," though the educational process to which the medical board participated led to their decision to investigate MDs who were alcoholics or serious drug-users and those MDs who were over-prescribing medications for their patients. Clearly, the medical board appropriately sought to discipline doctors who posed greater danger to society than those practitioners of various natural healing systems.

A couple of decades later in 2003, California governor Gray Davis signed into law a "medical freedom of choice" legislation that was modeled after a similar law in Minnesota. This law allowed the variety of herbalists, nutritionists, homeopaths, and others to engage in health care as long as they don't perform surgery and recommend prescription drugs. To those on the left of the political spectrum, the right to choose your own health practitioner is a "civil liberties" issue, while to those on the right on the political spectrum, the right to choose your own practitioner is a "health freedoms" issue. The beauty of health and healing issues is that they go beyond traditional left/right politics.

Ultimately, just as biology confirms that the web of life is strongest and most sustainable the more complex the web is, health care may also be at its best and most sustainable the more diversity that exists. The consummate literary genius Mark Twain wrote in Harper's Bazaar, "the introduction of homeopathy...forced the old-school doctor to stir around and learn something of a rational nature about his business; you may honestly feel grateful that homoeopathy survived the attempts of the allopathists [conventional physicians] to destroy it" (Twain, 1890).

Instead, any serious student of medical history knows that the competition that homeopathy provided in the 19th century led to the decrease and then the discontinuance of bloodletting, leeches, and mercury pills. Likewise, various "alternative" treatment methods will compete with conventional ones, forcing conventional medicine to achieve better and safer results.

As it turns out, homeopathic medicine is becoming increasingly competitive with conventional medicine:
  1. A large survey of licensed health practitioners in France was conducted in 2011-12 drawn from the prescribing habits from the national health insurance database (Piolot, Fagot, Rivière, et al., 2015). A total of 120,110 French healthcare professionals (HCPs) prescribed at least one homeopathic drug or preparation. They represented 43.5% of the overall population of HCPs, and further, nearly 95% of general practitioners, dermatologists and pediatricians, and 75% of midwives prescribed homeopathic medicines.

  • In 2009, 67% (!) the population of Switzerland voted to include homeopathy, acupuncture, and herbal medicine as a part of the nation's insurance program, and in 2016, the government decided to accept the will (and demand) of its people (Swiss, 2016).
  • A survey of Mexico medical doctors and biomedical researchers found that homeopathy was the most well-known complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatment, with 100% of people knowing about it. Homeopathy was also the most popular CAM treatment used by interviewees' family members. Homeopathy was the most popular CAM treatment to which physicians referred patients (16.8%). For the group of researchers, the percentage of CAM recommendations to acquaintances was highest for homeopathy (25%), followed by herbal medicine (19%), and massage therapy (18%). In terms of their own experience, researchers had taken more meditation and yoga courses (6.06%), while physicians had taken more homeopathy courses (12.2%). The survey found that the CAM approaches that researchers and physicians thought should be part of medical curricula were homeopathy (35.3% and 43.7%, respectively). The CAM therapies to which researchers and physicians thought should receive priority in resources for scientific research were also homeopathy (59% and 61.8%, respectively) and herbal medicine (71% and 51%, respectively).
  • According to the Lancet, about 10% of the population of India, approximately 100 million people, depend SOLELY on homeopathy for their health care (Prasad, 2007). When you consider that this means that Indians use homeopathy for the entire range of acute, chronic, and infectious disease for infants, children, adults, and the aged, it is remarkable that anyone could still consider that these natural medicines act as placebo (any clinic that tried to prescribe only placebos probably wouldn't last one month, let alone 200 years).
  • Piolot M, Fagot JP, Rivière S, Fagot-Campagna A, Debeugny G, Couzigou P, Alla F. Homeopathy in France in 2011-2012 according to reimbursements in the French national health insurance database (SNIIRAM). Fam Pract. 2015 Apr 28. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25921648

    Prasad, R. Homoeopathy Booming in India, Lancet, 370(November 17 2007):1679-80. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=18035598

    Twain, M. "A Majestic Literary Fossil," Harper's Magazine, February 1890, 80(477):439-444.

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    Dana Ullman, MPH, CCH, is America's leading spokesperson for homeopathy and is the founder of www.homeopathic.com . He is the author of 10 books, including his bestseller, Everybody's Guide to Homeopathic Medicines. His most recent book is, The Homeopathic Revolution: Why Famous People and Cultural Heroes Choose Homeopathy (the Foreword to this book was written by Dr. Peter Fisher, the Physician to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II). Dana has also developed a new e-course in "Learning to Use a Homeopathic Medicine Kit," which includes 40, 60, or 80 (!) short videos along with a detailed ebook entitled "Evidence Based Homeopathic Family Medicine," which provides reference to and description of over 300 clinical trials published in peer review medical journals. This e-course is available at www.homeopathic.com .

    Dana lives, practices, and writes from Berkeley, California. He sees patients from all over the world via phone and Skype and in his Berkeley office.