Health Reform in the 20th Century

To the earnest student of health reform in the twentieth century, the most striking fact is the stability of its fundamental principles.

By JEAN NUSSBAUM, M.D., Medical Secretary, Southern European Division


To the earnest student of health reform in the twentieth century, the most striking fact is the stability of its fundamental principles. In no way have these principles been shaken by the modern discoveries of great scientists. On the contrary, every real progress made in the world of medicine or of science actually confirmed the doctrine professed by our early reformers. This fact is all the more remarkable since science, in every channel, had been greatly transformed by the fresh knowledge that had been gained. One had the impression that nothing remained of the early teachings of Aesclepiades, and that a whole new world had been created. The medical ,outlook especially had altered completely, and with the new understanding many harmful er­rors and prejudices disappeared.

It was against these errors and prejudices that health reform waged war. Ever since 1863, when the reform came to life, the great fight had been unceasingly pursued. James White was unsparing in his efforts. He and his wife worked without respite, by both written and spoken word, to proclaim the truths that had been revealed to them. They lectured, wrote ar­ticles, published books. Nothing could check their activity, and the faith that was theirs helped them to vanquish all opposition.

When, at the dawn of the twentieth century, the laboratories directed the searching of their new discoveries into the darkness of ignorance, and mankind, at last beginning to realize that illness was due to simple causes, witnessed the downfall of all the complicated theories uni­versally accepted until then, one anxiously wondered whether health reform would survive the struggle between the past and the present. Could one really hope that truths preached in 1865 were still valid in woo? One need not have doubted. Not only were they valid in 1900, they are still valid today.

Anyone who studies the principles of health reform as they are conceived and practiced dur­ing the latter half of the last century, and who at the same time follows the progress of modern science, can easily convince himself that the findings of present-day scientists resemble, more and more closely, the doctrines that we have been preaching for the past eighty years. To cite only one example, let us take the case of vitamins, since in the domain of dietetics progress has made such strides. This has been the most sensational discovery of our time, both in the medical world and among the general public. The consequences of this discovery are limitless. They show us that in various food­stuffs, apart from the albumins, fats, hydrates of carbons and mineral salts, there are other vitalizing elements that are absolutely indis­pensable to one's very existence. Constant pri­vation of such elements engenders illness and may finally cause death. These elements are to be found in their greatest quantities in the veg­etable kingdom, and to enjoy them all it is nec­essary to have a varied diet. These various foods should be consumed in their most natural form, without being sifted, processed, or re­fined.

These ideas are relatively new. They were quite unknown to the doctors of the last cen­tury, but they were preached and practiced from the start by the followers of health reform. This is so true that when, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the medical profession was very busy changing its ideas and doctrines, Mrs. E. G. White was able to write, without vanity o,r boastfulness : "We shall not leave the position in which, for the last thirty-five years, the Lord has been bidding us stand."—Coun­sels on Diet and Foods, p. 38.

If I seem to insist on this fact, it is because insufficient stress has been laid upon it in our churches. The great victory won by health re­form is hardly spoken of, and yet it ought to have been a powerful stimulant to our members and workers. Full advantage was not taken of its success at the right moment, as it ought to have been, and this has allowed our enemies to regain their foothold among us. I do not want to dwell on the errors that have been made, since there is no recalling them, but it is now bur urgent duty to repair them. In spite of the evident triumph of health reform, its enemies have not ceased to fight against it, and they have unfortunately found powerful allies among those of its partisans who have become careless of, or indifferent to, its precepts. The result is that, instead of progressing, health reform has lost ground to such an extent that in the testi­mony published in 1909 one may read the fol­lowing significant sentence : "I am instructed to bear a message to all our people on the sub­ject of health reform ; for many have backslid­den from their former loyalty to health reform principles."—Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 153.

How have we responded to this appeal? Alas, when the first world war broke out in Europe, the food restrictions and the accompanying moral depression brought about a lowering of standards on health reform. We had barely re­covered from this first blow when yet another world war was declared, and its consequences seem even more serious than before, since the entire world appears to have completely lost its equilibrium. What are we to do? Shall we re­main idle and indifferent, or shall we labor our hardest to accomplish the work that the Lord has demanded of us for so many years?

As a doctor, I am accustomed to search deeply into the cause of any illness, and this is the most delicate as well as the most interest­ing part of my profession. Naturally, therefore, I have tried to define the reason for the torpor that prevents us from all walking together in the light that the Lord has shed upon the laws of health. There are, it seems to me, two ex­planations. The first is that the evil one redou­bles his wicked efforts as he feels that the end of all time is approaching. "Woe to the inhabi­ters of the earth and of the sea!" say the Scrip­tures, "for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time." Rev. 12:12. The sec­ond is that the truths that we preach go strongly against the habits that man has ac­quired, habits to which he has become a slave, and that self-indulgence leaves him with but little courage to fight. The serpent tempted Adam's appetite, and again, in the wilderness, Satan tempted the appetite of the second Adam. We are faced with a stupendous task that will have to be accomplished in the midst of great difficulties, since most men of the present generation have lost the habit of delving deeply into things, and are, on the whole, extremely superficial.

It is because of this state of affairs that, de­spite sound methods of propaganda, we show such poor results. Great efforts have been made to bring a knowledge of the truth to the great masses, and these efforts have been accom­plished in a convincing and attractive manner. Handsomely illustrated papers and magazines that clearly expound our medical doctrines are produced by our printing plants. They are cir­culated, in every language, all over the world, and there are books that teach simple and healthful cooking, as well as giving sound ad­vice on the prevention of sickness. Mrs. White's noble, spiritual works have been distributed the whole world over in their hundreds of thou­sands, indeed in their millions.

And yet not all our members and workers have carefully studied and followed the writ­ings that expound the principles and teachings of health reform. I, personally, realize how lim­ited, in Europe especially, is the knowledge that our followers display concerning dietetics and the physiology of the human body. In many cases it is practically nil. There are many Ad­ventist homes where the cooking is done in the ordinary way of the world, without a thought for the result it may have on the health.

Some time ago I met a traveling salesman who for years had been successfully selling, our medical books. Later he became an evangelist and my collaborator. I discovered, with amaze­ment, that he fed himself most foolishly, and was far more often found in the delicatessen shops than at the fruit stores or where they sell green vegetables. When I told him that his diet was harmful, he was most sincerely as­tonished. Here was a man—and there are most certainly others who resemble him—who was engaged in the task of spreading the truths of health reform, and yet he himself transgressed these same laws daily.

It is not enough to denounce an evil; one must also find a remedy. In a future article I shall try to point out the means by which we may hope to cope with the present situation. Meanwhile I have this to say, and I hope that all our workers will think deeply on the mat­ter: If, in the twentieth century, in spite of all the knowledge that is ours and the material means we possess with which to divulge it, health reform has not yet found its way into every home of our church members and has not yet conquered the entire universe, then the fault must be ours. For it is to us, doctors and workers, that those who believe in our gospel turn their eyes, and it is our attitude, to a great extent, that determines their conduct. The good Word says: "For the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth : for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts." Mal. 2:7.

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By JEAN NUSSBAUM, M.D., Medical Secretary, Southern European Division


November 1947

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