Is using the term "allopathy" to describe mainstream (i.e. real) medicine, pejorative? I know the term was originally used by homeopaths to insult real medicine, but I have heard it being used more and more lately, and am curious if there is still a pejorative sense to the term.
There are two kinds of practicing physicians in the United States: allopathic physicians (MD's) and osteopathic physicians (DO's). Both are fully licensed physicians, trained in diagnosing and treating illnesses and disorders, and in providing preventive care.
Modern medicine generally refers to clinical practice: the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease by a physician. That physician may be an allopathic physician (M.D.) or an osteopathic physician (D.O.).
It seems to me that these web pages intend to use neutral language.
Apparently, osteopathy is a later development than allopathy, and a reaction to allopathy, intended to promote whole-body health and preventive strategies and to reduce treatment with medicine. The distinction does still exist today, both in training and in practice; but in general allopaths and osteopaths perform the same roles (prescribing drugs, performing surgery, etc.) in every state, and they often make similar decisions.
In my personal experience in a family of MD’s, the culture of medicine is like this: MD’s and DO’s consider each other to be equals in the first rank of competence. For example they would be likely to assume that an ophthalmologist (regardless of whether he is an MD or a DO) would be preferable to an optometrist. And they would generally consider in one category such people as acupuncturists, chiropractors or homeopaths, people who apparently have an occasional success for reasons that nobody really understands, and so are worth considering for a patient who cannot be treated successfully and wants to try that route.
Allopathy is mostly used pejoratively. But in the United States it sometimes is used non-pejoratively. The connotation depends on context.
In its literal sense, allopathy is not pejorative. It is a technical term, part of an unscientific disease theory that “like cures like”. It was coined by Samuel Hahnemann (in German, later borrowed into English). It was part of his classification system of all drug treatments according to the symptoms the drugs would be expected to cause in a healthy person:
homeopathic treatments produce symptoms resembling those produced by the disease (hómoios, “resembling”)
enantiopathic treatments produce symptoms opposite to those produced by the disease (enantíos, “opposing”)
allopathic treatments produce symptoms neither resembling nor opposite to those produced by the disease (állos, “other”)
But in practice, allopathy is used by Hahnemann’s disciples as a dismissive label for all medical practices that do not follow the “like cures like” theory, and therefore are supposedly useless or harmful. In the same way, someone might dismissively refer to surgery they consider useless or harmful as butchery or bloodletting. (At one time, bloodletting was common medical practice, based on the unscientific theory that the cause of disease is imbalance of bodily fluids.*)
Recently in the United States, the term allopathic medicine has begun to be used with no pejorative connotation as an antonym of osteopathic medicine. In this context, allopathic medicine means medicine as practiced by Doctors of Medicine, and osteopathic medicine means medicine as practiced by Doctors of Osteopathy. This is arguably a very loose or figurative usage, because osteopathic is not opposite to allopathic – it is not a Hahnemann classification at all. Osteopathic treatments were based on yet another unscientific theory, that disease is caused by problems in the bones and muscles and can be reversed by manipulating joints and tissues. Arguably Hahnemann would have considered osteopathy just another useless allopathic practice.
* “You know, medicine is not an exact science, but we are learning all the time. Why, just fifty years ago, they thought a disease like your daughter’s was caused by demonic possession or witchcraft. But nowadays we know that Isabelle is suffering from an imbalance of bodily humors, perhaps caused by a toad or a small dwarf living in her stomach.” (“Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber”, Saturday Night Live, season 3, episode 18)
In India, most usages of "allopathy" that I have seen are not pejorative. I don't think I have seen a pejorative use of "allopathy" in common usage so far. I have also seen it used by government officials non-pejoratively. For example, here are some articles from mainstream newspapers of India:
- 90% of Indians prefer allopathy over AYUSH - The Times of India, July 8, 2015. ("AYUSH" comprises a bunch of alternative medicine systems: Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy. There's even a ministry for it.)
WHO report sounds alarm on ‘doctors’ in India The Hindu, July 18, 2016:
Speaking to The Hindu, Dr. Reena Nayyar, Secretary of the Medical Council of India (MCI), said, "I don’t think this report has officially come to the MCI yet. But in general, any person practising allopathic medicine who does not have a registered medical qualification comes under quackery."
The MCI establishes standards of medical qualifications in India.
Now, unani, ayurveda practitioners can prescribe allopathy medicines, perform surgeries - The Indian Express, February 28, 2014.
Army to throw open doors to alternative medicine - Hindustan Times, January 25, 2016:
“Mainstream doctors have traditionally resisted alternative medicine treatment. But let’s be frank, we really don’t have the domain knowledge to dismiss it. The idea behind the experiment is to see if alternative medicine can work where allopathy has no answers,” said Lieutenant General BK Chopra, director general, Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS).
You can safely use "allopathy" to talk about mainstream medicine in India without accidentally belittling it.
Consider conventional medicine (cancer.gov) as a more neutral alternative:
A system in which medical doctors and other healthcare professionals (such as nurses, pharmacists, and therapists) treat symptoms and diseases using drugs, radiation, or surgery. Also called allopathic medicine, biomedicine, mainstream medicine, orthodox medicine, and Western medicine.
About the only practical use for allopathic is to split the MDs off from the DOs. Both groups practice essentially the same kind of medicine nowadays, but for historical reasons many U.S. states will have two Boards of Medicine (BOM), a Board of Allopathic Medicine and a Board of Osteopathic Medicine. Most DOs spend most of their time practicing allopathic medicine and, one could argue, that an MD physiatrist who uses massage to aid in recovery from a reconstructive procedure is practicing manipulative, i.e. osteopathic, medicine.
Not all states will have two BOMs, (e.g. Arizona) and in those states the term "Board of Medical Examiners" is often used. It would issue medical licenses to both MDs and DOs.
Just to put the final nail in this linguistic coffin, surgeons are not always addressed as "Doctor" in the UK.