Medicine on Mission: The International Health Reform of Seventh-day Adventists and their Health Care Facilities in Sweden
The international non-conformist denomination, Seventh-day Adventists, have since their foundation in 1863, had a distinctive health care model for their members. The life-style has included vegetarian diet, abstinence from alcohol, tobacco and other drugs and the observance of a day of rest once a week. The health policy has striven to care for God’s creation in the hope of resurrection at the Day of Judgment and to reform the conventional medical practice. The Adventists have pursued an extensive international health care system – from the start based on dietary and physical treatment methods, such as hydrotherapy, massage and physiotherapy – in line with the Christian mission. Health care establishments have been inaugurated around the world as a vehicle for enabling the Christian health care message to reach the upper classes.
With Adventist and Doctor, John Harvey Kellogg’s Battle Creek Sanatorium in Michigan as both inspirational source and educational institution, the health care mission - including a vegetarian health food industry, following in the footsteps of cornflakes - spread to the Nordic countries by the turn of the century, 1900. Skodsborgs Badesanatorium near Copenhagen became the model institution for several health care establishments in Sweden during the 1900’s, such as Hultafors Sanatorium. The American-Nordic link has manifested itself through co-publication of papers, exchange of health care personnel and reporting to the central Adventist church.
The American non-conformist domain as well as a private sphere of activity, aiming mainly from the outset at society’s upper classes, has encountered certain difficulties in maintaining this distinction in Sweden’s officially increasing secularised society, and in relation to a state health insurance and a publicly financed health care system. With the passing of time, the socioeconomic composition of patients at Hultafors became more heterogeneous, and conventional medical procedures were increasingly incorporated into the array of treatment resources. The successful enterprises – as they had been for a considerable time - could not, at the end of the 20th century, continue to be self financing or fulfil the missionary objectives among the upper classes. The institutionalised health care apparatus came to an end around the turn of the century, which also included the sale of health associated food product companies.
The Seventh-day Adventist’s combination of medicine and religion with Christian missionary aims have indeed, not only steered health care models and institutions worldwide, but also which target groups to mainly turn to, the specific treatment philosophy, desirable working environment and which medical technologies to use. Furthermore, the Adventist’s health reform and care of the sick provide an example for how different medical cultures influence each other and develop in relation to one another in a pluralistic medical market. The developments are not merely a reflection of the medical, scientific and technical advancements, but also of the medical market’s structure, financing and (inter)national connections, of religion, culture and not least of all, patients’ options and their choices.
Stockholm: Föreningen för utgivande av Svensk Medicinhistorisk Tidskrift , 2008. Vol. 12, no 1, 119-141 p.
health care, health reform, Hultafors, John Harvey Kellogg, mission, Seventh-day Adventists