Ellen G. White and Her Critics


Two Uses of Strychnine

These questions reveal that Mrs. White’s words have been wrongly interpreted. The medical books of 1864 discussed two different uses of strychnine: (1) A therapeutic use, in small quantities, in such a medicine as nux vomica. (2) A suicidal—or accidental—use, in large quantities. For the latter, there was no known antidote. For the former, the doctors were not looking for an antidote. Instead they were using strychnine medicinally. Mrs. White is also discussing its medicinal use. She declared, and we quote the lines that follow immediately the three sentences cited in the charge: EGWC 134.2

“I was shown persons under the influence of this poison. It produced heat, and seemed to act particularly on the spinal column, but affected the whole system. When this is taken in the smallest quantities, it has its influence, which nothing can counteract. If taken immoderately, convulsions, paralysis, insanity, and death, are often the results. Many use this deadly evil in small quantities. But if they realized its influence, not one grain of it would be introduced into the system. EGWC 134.3

“When first taken, its influence may seem to be beneficial. It excites the nerves connected with the spinal column, but when the excitement passes away, it is followed by a sense of prostration and of chilliness the whole length of the spinal column, especially upon the head and back of the neck.”—Spiritual Gifts 4a:138. EGWC 134.4

More might be quoted of her description of strychnine’s steady, insidious, inroads upon the physical and nervous constitution. But enough is given to reveal that Mrs. White was taking most vigorous issue with the generally accepted medical view that strychnine, medicinally administered, was beneficial. Which leads to the simple conclusion that her “no antidote” statement was intended to describe the baleful and inescapable results that must follow from the use of strychnine as it was then being used, dose after dose, medicinally. EGWC 134.5

We do not believe that twentieth-century medical men would challenge her statement on that. In fact, no present-day doctor would think of using strychnine as did the doctors in 1864. If he did so use it, he would soon lose his license. EGWC 135.1

No, Mrs. White was not guilty of setting forth, in 1864, as a revelation, so self-evident a fact as that there was “no antidote” for strychnine taken in large suicidal, or accidental, doses. She declared—what was not known to doctors in 1864—that even if strychnine was taken in “the smallest quantities” it was dangerous, and that there was nothing that would counteract its effects upon the whole system when thus allowed gradually to become a systemic poison. Science knows nothing to the contrary today. EGWC 135.2