In the Transactions of the State Medical Society of Michigan for 1872 (pp. 85-6) are the following significant words: "Every intelligent physician feels the want of a science of therapeutics. All the other branches of medicine have attained a respectable scientific basis, but the science of cure, if there be one, has eluded all search. Medical practice is largely empirical . . . With intelligent people, the Homeopath, the Hydropath, and the Eclectic receive their full share of patronage . . . In the older communities, where general education is more extensive, these same pathies do not fade away, but the contrary. Add to this the claim that the results of their practices are at least as favorable as ours, taken as a whole, which we cannot disprove, and we cannot fail to see that we are held at a disadvantage."
This confession that they had no science of cure could be made today with equal truth. A few years previous to the publication of the Transactions a resolution was adopted at the annual meeting of the American Medical Association in St. Louis in which the living teachers and leading minds of the profession charged that medicine was "erroneous in theory and fatal in practice." Thus they agreed with the Hygienists of the era who opposed the medical system because they believed it to be false and, as they declared, had no scientific basis. They declared the whole drug medical system to be in opposition to nature, at war with the living organism and disastrous in practice.
Trall answered the lament of the Michigan physicians over their lack of a science of cure in these words: "But the underlying question is: should disease be cured? We say no. And we challenge all the medical men of all the earth to prove the affirmative. When they will show that diseases ought to be cured, we will thenceforth be as zealous advocates for drug medication as we now are for hygienic medication.
"What is disease that it should be cured? If it is a fiend, demon, ghost or goblin, anything supernatural, cure it or kill it by all means. If it is any foreign substance, entity or force--anything preternatural, ditto. In either case, arrest it, suppress it, subdue it, cast it out, cure it, kill it--anything to get rid of it. Bleed, blister, dose, poison the blood, saturate the vital organs with drugs of every name and nature and with potencies of high and low degree; some of them may hit it and kill it and that is curing it.
"But what about the patient? Every dose is a war on his vitality. And all the dosing and drugging is one stupendous blunder. Diseases should not be cured. It is the patient that should be cured. Disease is an effort of the vital organism to recover the normal condition."
Here was the real challenge to the men of medicine, of all schools, and they failed to meet it. They have persisted in their refusal to even consider the question: should disease be cured? That it should be cured follows logically from their vague conception of its essential nature as an adventitious and exotic foe that had attacked the organism. To this date, disease is an attack upon the body, so far as medical theory and practice is concerned.
To cure disease, the sick have been poisoned, blistered, puked, purged, electrocuted, bled, transfused, cupped, leeched, irradiated, cut on, buried up to their necks in mud, burned, pricked, tortured, whipped, baked, broiled, frozen, steamed, mauled, pulled, twisted, punched, had pus put into their bodies, have been stung by bees, had the venom of snakes injected into them and subjected to so many and such evil abuses, all in the name of cure, that to catalogue all of these means of abusing the sick would be the work of a lifetime.
The means that have been adopted with which to treat the diseases of man are as varied as the imaginations of physicians are credulous. Some forms of treatment are so strenuous as to be worse offenders against the integrity of the organism than are the original causes of the patient's troubles. The popular mode of expressing this fact is to say that the cure is worse than the disease. The sands of time are strewn with the wrecks of such cures. The same sands are strewn with the skeletons of those who died prematurely because of these cures.
Funk and Wagnall's New Standard Dictionary of the English Language defines cure to mean "the return to a healthy or sound condition . . . to get rid of by treatment . . . as, to cure a patient of pneumonia or a sore hand." Dorland's Medical Dictionary defines cure to mean "the successful treatment of a disease or wound . . . a system of treating disease . . . a medicine effective in treating disease." In these definitions by the two dictionaries there are two definitions of cure. The first definition given by Funk and Wagnalls implies a reinstatement of health in an organism that is suffering with disease. The remaining definitions of both dictionaries imply that a cure is a process or an agent that works upon the body from without. They have reference to external means whereby, it is assumed, health is restored--it is supposed to be some defect supplied or means wrought or foreign or external aid. The sick man is treated and physicked in the confident assurance that he is fitted and burnished for new service. It is assumed that those symptoms which we call disease are necessarily and "invariably evidences of a destructive process and that certain substances known to be inimical to health are yet, also, antagonistic to disease and that on special occasions they may be special vivifying means, differing from those usually necessary and working upon local parts a curative action that differs from the ordinary nutritive and reproductive process. A cure, in other words, is something wrought upon the body from without.
In popular and professional thought, the sick would scarcely be said to be cured, however perfect the recovery, without the employment of some medical means; hence, cure has reference to an external rather than an internal resource; it is the operation or effect of something foreign to the body.
A few years ago a cure for arthritis was announced. Cortisone, a glandular preparation, was said to be a sure cure in this disease. It was not claimed that the cause of arthritis was known. It was not claimed that cortisone removed the cause of arthritis. The cortisone was administered and the symptoms cleared up as if by magic. The first clearing up of symptoms was heralded with enthusiasm as a successful cure. Only a short time was to pass before it was realized that this cure was as illusory as all past cures. A similar experience followed the discovery of insulin. Although it was admitted that the cause of diabetes was unknown and it was not claimed that insulin removed the cause of diabetes, it was heralded as a cure for diabetes. Nobody today, least of all the physicians, will claim that insulin cures diabetes.