Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History

The Greatest benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity. Roy Porter. New York and London: WW Norton and Company. 1997.

Why read it? A history of medicine “from the clearly defined conviction of the Hippocratic Oath to the muddy ethical dilemmas of modern day medicine.” Wrote the book because when people asked if there were a single-volume history of medicine, he did not know what to suggest. Writing the book made him realize how much he did not know.

“See your doctor,” the advertisements and TV commercials advise. After you read this history of medicine, you may have some second thoughts about the knowledge and wisdom of your doctor.

Sample quotes:

“These are strange times, when we are healthier than ever but more anxious about our health.” p. 3. ………. “…scotching any innocent notion that the story of health and medicine is a pageant of progress.” p. 15 ........... “Trade, war and empire have always sped disease transmission between populations….” p. 26. ………. “It was typhus which joined “General Winter” to turn Napoleon’s Russian invasion into a rout.” p. 27.

“The Mesopotamian peoples saw the hand of the gods in everything…. Sickness was both judgment and punishment.” p. 46. ………. “Egyptian medicine credited many vegetables and fruits with healing properties.” p. 48. ………. “According to Egyptian medical theory, humans were born healthy…” p. 50.

“Hippocratic surgical texts were thus conservative in outlook, encouraging a tradition in which doctors sought to treat complaints first through management, occasionally through drugs and finally, if need be, by surgical intervention.” p. 59. ………. “The Hippocratic Oath foreshadowed the Western paradigm of a profession (one who professes an oath) as a morally self-regulating discipline among those sharing craft knowledge and committed to serving others.” p. 62. ……….

The Hippocratic Oath: “I will use my power to help the sick…. I will abstain from harming or wrongdoing any man by it. I will not give a fatal draught to anyone if I am asked, nor will I suggest any such thing. Neither will I give a woman means to procure an abortion. I will be chaste and religious in my life and in my practice. Whenever I go into a house, I will go to help the sick and never with the intention of doing harm or injury. I will not abuse my position to indulge in sexual contacts with the bodies of women or of men. Whatever I see or hear, professionally or privately which ought not to be divulged, I will keep secret and tell no one.” p. 63.

Comment: With the Hippocratic Oath, and some of its eye-opening statements, I will end my selection of quotes. Read this book. With the overwhelming use of medications in the world today, you need to be aware of the different theories of medicine. Not everyone believes in “a pill for every ill.” There are those physicians who believe that nature is the surest cure. On the other hand, medicine has accomplished a great deal. And you need to be aware that doctors are human beings consisting of emotions and mistakes and not the gods that your mother and the pharmaceutical companies have suggested they are.

The Romans held that one was better off without doctor.s Personally, I hope to live to be 105 years old. Why? Because when people ask me to what I attribute my longevity, I can say, “I stayed away from doctors. RayS.

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