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First do no harm Thomas Inman, 1860

17 May

Three simple arguments run through this book. The first is that if we define medicine as the ability to cure diseases, then there was very little medicine before 1865. The long tradition that descended from Hippocrates, symbolized by a reliance on bloodletting, purges, and emetics, was almost totally ineffectual, indeed positively deleterious, except in so [...]

DEATH DEFERRED

17 May

In the end we all die: life is a condition with a mortality rate of 100 per cent. Doctors talk of saving lives, but what they really do is defer death. This chapter is about the deaths that medicine has deferred. Deferring death is the main test of medicine’s success –– not the only one, [...]

DOLL, BRADFORD HILL, AND LUNG CANCER

17 May

I want to end my account of delayed progress in medicine with a final case study. By 1948, when streptomycin was shown to be effective against tuberculosis, it looked as if all the major infectious diseases had been or would soon be conquered. Since then HIV has emerged as a major threat, and other diseases, [...]

CONCLUSION TO PART III: PROGRESS DELAYED

17 May

In 1879 an American doctor, T. H. Buckler acknowledged that ‘the lancet, by the common consent of the profession at large, had been sheathed never to be drawn again’. Yet he was writing ‘A Plea for the Lancet’. In 1875 an English doctor, W. Mitchell Clarke, wrote ‘we are most decidedly living in one of [...]

ALEXANDER FLEMING AND PENICILLIN

17 May

In September 1928 Alexander Fleming returned from holiday and began to sort through the mess in his laboratory. At first he discarded a culture plate that had been lying in the open air for some weeks. On it a blob of mould had interfered with the development [...]