Should we avoid chemotherapy and other modern medical treatments?
Mrs. White herself provides us an example here. She developed a cancerous spot on her forehead, and she had X-ray treatments for it, which killed the cancer. You will find her reference to this in Selected Messages, book 2, page 303, at the end of a chapter on “Ellen G. White’s Use of Remedial Agencies.”
On Mrs. White’s references to drugs in general, it is helpful to know what her primary concerns were. Early in Mrs. White’s ministry, the “big three” drugs that were widely used medically were opium, calomel, and nux vomica. You can read Mrs. White’s comments about them in Selected Messages, book 2, pages 441–454. You probably recognize opium. Calomel is a compound of mercury, which today is treated as a hazardous material. Mrs. White described its effects in the pages I referred you to. The third, nux vomica, contains the poison strychnine. These were indeed “poisonous drugs,” and physicians gave them in doses large or small.
Mrs. White’s condemnation of the use of “poisonous drugs” appears most often, I think, in the context of seeking a cure for some temporary condition that the body would throw off by itself if it were given the proper rest, nutrition, exercise, air, and other support. The natural remedies are better than taking a dose of something in most such cases. But I, personally, am not willing to call all drugs poisonous just because Mrs. White referred to certain poisonous drugs. Our situation today is somewhat different from how things were then. With extensive scientific testing, the usefulness and safety of drugs is supposed to be established before they are made available to the general public.
The drugs used in chemotherapy are poisonous. The aim, as I understand it, is to give it in doses high enough to kill the cancer but low enough not to kill the patient. Though chemotherapy is no surefire cure for cancer, it does seem to have helped a good many people who would otherwise have died from their cancers. One important difference between these poisonous drugs and the ones Mrs. White wrote about is that these have actually been demonstrated to attack the problem—in this case, the cancer. Nineteenth-century doctors were trying to treat the symptoms, and even then, they had no idea what the drugs they gave actually did.
Are there viable alternatives to chemotherapy which are more in line with what Mrs. White called for? I remember hearing about the “grape cure” in my teens, but you almost never hear about it today. I am guessing this means that it didn’t work in a high enough percentage of cases. I have had friends who tried alternative, “natural,” or experimental cures. They are dead now. In examples like these, people must prayerfully, carefully, consider the options and do what they think is best.