Bad Medicine: Doctors Doing Harm since Hippocrates

Bad Medicine: Doctors Doing Harm since Hippocrates

Bad Medicine: Doctors Doing Harm since Hippocrates

Bad Medicine: Doctors Doing Harm since Hippocrates

Synopsis

Just how much good has medicine done over the years, and how much harm does it continue to do? The history of medicine begins with Hippocrates in the fifth century BC. Yet until the invention of antibiotics in the 1930s doctors, in general, did their patients more harm than good. In this fascinating new look at the history of medicine, David Wootton argues that for more than 2300 years doctors have relied on their patients' misplaced faith in their ability to cure. Over and over again major discoveries which could save lives were met with professional resistance. And this isnot just a phenomenon of the distant past. The first patient effectively treated with penicillin was in the 1880s; the second not until the 1940s. There was overwhelming evidence that smoking caused lung cancer in the 1950s; but it took thirty years for doctors to accept the claim that smoking wasaddictive. In the 1960s there was the notorious thalidomide tragedy, while today there is the ongoing problem of unnecessary operations, especially in the United States - and this all at a time of rapidly rising healthcare costs. As Wootton graphically illustrates, throughout history and right upto the present, bad medical practice has often been deeply entrenched and stubbornly resistant to evidence. This is a bold and challenging book - and the first general history of medicine to acknowledge the frequency with which doctors do harm.

Excerpt

We all have bodies, and all our bodies function in much the same way. Each of us originates in a fertilized egg; we all breathe and maintain a heartbeat; we all eat, digest, and excrete. If we cannot perform these basic functions for ourselves, then our life depends on medical machinery doing them for us. In these respects we are all alike, and like, too, not only all the generations of human beings before us, but all mammals, birds, and reptiles. Bodies, you could say, have no history because they have been much the same since the first human beings came into existence.

But our bodies do have a history. I am tall, over six feet. The vast majority of people over six feet tall have been born in the last century, perhaps in the last thirty years. In the mid-eighteenth century Frederick the Great of Prussia searched across Europe to assemble a regiment of men over six foot tall: the enterprise took its point from the rarity of such giants. Anybody inspecting my body for a post mortem would find that on my upper arm there is the scar of a vaccination against smallpox, which must have occurred after 1796, when Jenner invented vaccination, and before 1980, when smallpox was officially declared eradicated. They would also find evidence of my surviving an appendix operation and a compound fracture of the tibia: this, as we shall see, implies medical care received after 1865. Before that date an appendectomy was almost certain to be fatal, while the only hope for someone with a compound fracture (where the bone sticks through the skin) was amputation. The amalgams used to repair my teeth, and my varifocal lenses, without which I would be half blind, set a terminus post quem in the late twentieth century. My life expectancy is quite different from that of someone born a . . .

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