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Sectarian Medicine

Norman Gevitz, PhD
JAMA. 1987;257(12):1636-1640. doi:10.1001/jama.1987.03390120098032.
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IN THE Devil's Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce defined a "homeopath" as "the humorist of the medical profession."1 To Bierce, this practitioner with his peculiar notions regarding the selection and administration of drugs may have been an unintentionally funny figure, but to orthodox physicians who combated these opponents through the years, homeopathy was anything but a laughing matter. Neither were other sectarian rivals who have flourished in the United States during the past 150 years.

The term "sect" has been applied to those groups (whether inside or outside the orthodox medical tradition) who have challenged the legitimacy and value of accepted therapeutic principles and practices. Such groups have championed the use of alternative modes of healing based on a set of doctrines that they initially regard as laws. Given their radical beliefs and approaches, these sectarians have had to form separate institutions and associations to support their continued existence and growth.


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