George Bernard Shaw: Man of the Century

By Archibald Henderson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 58
Faiths, Fads, and Vagaries

SHAW REPEATEDLY POINTED OUT THAT HE WAS NOT AN ENEMY OF THE MEDICAL profession. Careful reading of his many articles and speeches on various phases of medicine, which bristle with damaging and in many cases well- founded criticisms and charges, shows that his fundamental purpose was to socialize medicine for the people's protection and advantage. So long as medicine remains a trade union, with not a few of the features of a "racket" (a corrupt scheme for extorting money from a helpless public); so long as the official medical organizations exert their power tyrannically to oppress those doctors, however able or brilliant, who do not conform to technical requirements; so long as the medical profession, as a whole, lags hopelessly in scientific advance, and physicians and surgeons are not adequately graded; so long as most medical practitioners remain pitifully poor; so long as the public is not adequately represented, for its own protection, on the executive council of the official medical organization--so long would Shaw continue to point out patent abuses and to agitate for drastic reforms of the medical profession. A delightful and good-humored skit, happily couched in the guise of a fable, and embodying Shaw's chief criticisms of the medical profession as organized in England, was inspired by the desperate illness of King George V.1

Shaw's exposure of the popular errors regarding such "heroes of science" as Pasteur, Lister and Jenner; his drastic antivaccination campaign, a movement assured of ultimate complete success; his humanitarian aversion from vivisection as cruel and unnecessary--all were characteristic manifestations of a coldly critical mind in conjunction with a warmly sympathetic heart. Shaw unhesitatingly damned the vivisectionist, who performs painful experiments upon animals, as an "infinite scoundrel." Unmitigated disrespect for this cruel type of science is thus expressed: "When one thinks of the Rockefeller funds, the Cancer Research funds, and the rest of the money that has gone down the vivisector's sinks during the past quarter century, and compares its worse than negative results with the amazing series of discoveries made during that period by physicists doing sheer brain work within the strictest limits of honor, it is difficult to resist the conclusion . . . that only imbeciles can be in

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1
Bernard Shaw, "The King and the Doctors: An Improbable Fiction," which first appeared in Time and Tide, February 22, 1929. It is also found in The Time and Tide Album, Ed., E. M. Delafield; with a Foreword by John Galsworthy ( London, 1932).

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