In recent years the history of alternative methods of healing has become an expanding field of medico- and socio-historical research. Regin here examines the most important lay movement for life reformation and criticism of classical medicine during the years before World War I. Following an introductory overview of current research, the first major segment of the book is devoted to the development of organizational structures within the Deutscher Bund der Vereine für Gesundheitspflege und arzneilose Heilweise, founded in 1888, which after 1900 was known as Deutscher Bund der Vereine für naturgemäß e Lebens- und Heilweise. Regin offers new insights concerning the membership structure and the reasons why people turned their back on classical medicine. In a situation comparable to that of today, university-taught medical science was accused of no [End Page 135] longer being able to meet the needs of the sick. The critics of classical medicine did not see themselves as enemies of scientific progress, but rather as protagonists of a biologically correct understanding of science.
In a second major segment, Regin looks into the role of the movement for natural healing in the discussion about public health policy. She points out an antagonism between, on the one side, lay attempts at a “democratisation of the health care system” (p. 451), emphasizing patient self-help and requesting a voice in the formulation of public health policy, and, on the other side, the economic interests of the medical profession. While state authorities mostly sided with the medical profession in this clash of interests, naturopaths often found support at the communal level.
Regin’s study suggests that this movement played a much more important role than has been recognized in the past; the author emphasizes the many links between the “movement for natural healing” and other reform movements of the time. In the years prior to World War I an increasing number of individuals strove for reforms in numerous areas of society, including nutrition, clothing, personal hygiene, education, housing, and environmental medicine. In this context, a noteworthy segment of the population considered naturopathy a healing system destined to prevent a further loss of competence in health care in the general public. In conclusion, Regin points to a fact that is still relevant today: An efficient health care system that assures efficient and cost-effective care of the sick and that places high priority on the prevention of disease can hardly be achieved without the cooperation of responsible and informed laymen, nor can it exist as long “as patients remain dependent on the aid of experts—as encouraged by physicians” (pp. 450–51).
While this book is based, in addition to secondary sources, on an admirably broad range of primary archival materials, Regin appears not to have started from a neutral position, as might be expected in a scientific study: a bias toward the lay movement in medicine is quite evident throughout her argumentation. Nevertheless, the book should be informative reading for all those interested not only in a dramatic facet of the history of the professionalization (and deprofessionalization) of medicine, but also in historical antecedents to the current naturopathic movement.