For many centuries there were no regulations about who can treat patients. But according to the Hippocrates oath the physician had the duty to cure whether the person was rich or poor, living in the rural or urban area. In 1851 Prussia introduced a law[i] in which the duty to cure was legally regulated. However, as a treatment was often impossible due to distances the physicians worked on the legal level for the Kurierfreiheit – the freedom to cure - which was first introduced 1869 in Prussia and 1872 in whole German Empire. Yet that law didn’t imply the legalization of the lay-healer! It only implied that treating patients for lay healers were not forbidden where lay healers were people who healed professionally without medical education from an university. Helpers or caring people were excluded as well as people who helped or healed people in the neighbourhood without money like pastors, teachers or other people in that definition. There were also some herb women or shepherd who would treat as well but would act usually as a loner (Faltin p. 211). However, as both physician and local government were not happy with those regulations there was an ongoing continuous discussion which tried to erode the Kurierfreiheit!
From the legal side nobody wanted quackery for the sake of the patient’s health, there were medicinal regulations of prohibition of quackery (Verbot der Quacksalberei)[ii],[iii] depending of the kingdom inside the German Empire. However, most of them were focusing on the profitable selling of drugs or some Arcanum. Nonetheless, if a patient was hurt by some treatment the penalty for the healer was high!
Therefore, in order to overcome the stigma of quack, lay healers founded associations and adjusted to modern medicine by continuous education and learning modern medicine!
The naturopaths, homeopaths and the balneopaths were not a uniform group but instead were discussing various points of alternative medicine in very different ways. Some thought that they just need to strengthen the vital force and hence the sick body may be able to overcome diseases. While many Anti-modernistic Worldview lay healers condemned all drugs including herbs and remedies, homeopaths were and are still thinking that remedies are necessary. Furthermore, they were very open to all kind of approaches including some superstitious methods. In addition, Kneipp healers and homeopaths accepted substances and worked with medical institutions while others avoided all cooperation with the established medicine.
[i]According to §200 (Unterlassene ärztliche Hilfeleistung), Prussian StGB (Preußisches Strafgesetzbuch von 1851) from April 14th 1851, the duty to cure (Kurierzwang) was legalized but abolished on June 21st1869: “Medizinalpersonen, welche in Fällen einer dringenden Gefahr ohne hinreichende Ursache ihre Hülfe verweigern, sollen mit Geldbuße von zwanzig bis zu fünfhundert Thalern bestraft werden.“
[ii] In Hamburg 1818, there was a medicinal regulations in Paragraph 99: “prohibition of quackery” (Verbot der Quacksalberei) or in Wuerttemberg there was a law of prohibiting lay healing from 1839. (Faltin p. 224).
[iii]§199 (Kurpfuscherei) Prussian StGB (Preußisches Strafgesetzbuch von 1851): „Wer, ohne vorschriftsmäßig approbirt zu sein, gegen Belohnung, oder einem besonderen, an ihn erlassenen polizeilichen Verbote zuwider, die Heilung einer äußeren oder inneren Krankheit oder eine geburthülflichen Handlung unternimmt, wird mit Geldbuße von fünf bis zu funfzig Thalern oder mit Gefangniß bis zu sechs Monaten bestraft. Diese Bestimmung findet keine Anwendung, wenn eine solche Handlung in einem Falle vorgenommen wird, in welchem zu dem dringend nöthigen Beistande eine approbirte Medizinalperson nicht herbeigeschafft werden kann.“