Selected Messages Book 2


Section 7—The Use of Medicinal Agencies


Shortly after the organization of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in May, 1863, at a time when the church numbered 3,500 members, Ellen G. White received a vision calling the attention of Adventists to the importance of good health and the close relationship between physical well-being and spiritual experience. The light given touched a number of important phases of living, including diet, value of fresh air, the use of water, healthful attire, exercise, rest, et cetera. Prominent in this important revelation of June 6, 1863, was light concerning the harmful effects of the poisonous drugs that physicians so freely prescribed. 2SM 276.1

In the subsequent years the great basic health-reform vision was followed by many visions opening up in more detail the principles and the application of principles that should guide in matters of retaining good health and the care of the sick, the call for medical institutions and the manner in which Seventh-day Adventists should conduct such institutions. 2SM 276.2

On these matters Mrs. White wrote much. Her first comprehensive presentation appeared in 1864 in Spiritual Gifts,[Currently available in facsimile reprint.] Volume 4, pages 120 to 151 in an article entitled “Health.” Mrs. White then expanded this thirty-page statement into six separate articles for publication under the general title of “Disease and its Causes.” In 1865 these were embodied in the six numbered pamphlets compiled by Elder and Mrs. White, entitled Health or How to Live, one E. G. White article appearing in each number. [The six articles in their entirety appear as an appendix to this volume, see pp. 409-479.] From time to time over the next several decades the various journals of the denomination carried articles by Mrs. White on the subject of health. In 1890 she presented a comprehensive picture of the health message in the first half of the book Christian Temperance and Bible Hygiene. In 1905 she published The Ministry of Healing, her climaxing volume on the subject. This she intended for very wide distribution in America and overseas. 2SM 276.3

In each of her general presentations on health Mrs. White discussed poisonous drugs and their use in the treatment of the sick. This phase of the subject—prominent in the original health-reform vision—filled eight of the thirty pages of her initial Spiritual Gifts presentation. She devoted one entire article in the “Disease and its Causes” series to the subject of drugs. 2SM 277.1

Nor was Ellen White's voice alone at the time. There were certain physicians on both sides of the Atlantic who deplored the absence of adequate diagnosis, and gravely questioned the use of many commonly prescribed poisonous drugs. As a result gradual changes took place in the treatment of the sick as regards the use of drugs. These changes have been most rapid and striking in the years following the first decade of the twentieth century, when modern medical education, along scientific and experimental lines, developed. 2SM 277.2

In her earlier writings, particularly, Mrs. White made singularly strong statements concerning the physicians of the time and concerning the use of drugs. In order rightly to evaluate these, one must know something of the medical practices at the time the statements were made. This knowledge can be gained by examining the medical literature of those times and from reading the opening chapter of The Story of Our Health Message, by D. E. Robinson. 2SM 277.3

In her books that deal specifically with the problems and work of the church and its members, Mrs. White devotes more space to the subject of health and the care of the sick than to any other single topic. These counsels are spread before the general public in the more than two thousand pages of The Ministry of Healing, Medical Ministry, Counsels on Diet and Foods, Counsels on Health, and Temperance, and in articles in the Testimonies for the Church. The reader is directed to these sources for the full, balanced picture of the health-reform message. 2SM 277.4

This volume contains four chapters composed of statements drawn from various sources—some published and some unpublished—written mostly to medical personnel in connection with Adventist institutions. These statements illustrate the way Mrs. White herself applied the principles revealed to her in vision. In her various utterances on the subject of the care of the sick, she ever held up the ideal for which to strive. At the same time she recognized, as seen by the terminology used, that there were times and circumstances in special situations when it was justifiable and necessary to employ even medications that were known to be poisonous. 2SM 277.5

It is significant that Ellen White gives us the assurance that Christ and the angels are present in the operating room attending and guiding the consecrated Christian physician in performing surgical operations. Before major surgery, the entire body is saturated with a powerful and, in a sense, harmful drug, to the point of complete unconsciousness and to complete insensibility. By the same token, after surgical procedures, the physician may find it necessary to administer sedatives that almost certainly include drugs, to give relief and prevent the patient from lapsing, from sheer pain, into a state of surgical shock and, in some instances, possible death. 2SM 278.1

As they strive to know and follow God's will, not a few today are making inquiries similar to one expressed in the words of a medical student who in 1893 wrote to Mrs. White to ask her about the use of drugs. In his letter he said: 2SM 278.2

“From our study of the Testimonies and the little work, How to Live, we can see that the Lord is strongly opposed to the use of drugs in our medical work....Several of the students are in doubt as to the meaning of the word ‘drug’ as mentioned in How to Live. Does it refer only to the stronger medicines as mercury, strychnine, arsenic, and such poisons, the things we medical students call ‘drugs,’ or does it also include the simpler remedies, as potassium, iodine, squills, etc.? We know that our success will be proportionate to our adherence to God's methods. For this reason I have asked the above question.” 2SM 278.3

The first item in chapter 28, which follows immediately, is Mrs. White's reply to the inquiry of that medical student. 2SM 278.4

White Trustees.