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JAMA 100 Years Ago
March 20, 2013

MEDICINE AND THE LAW

Author Affiliations
 

JAMA 100 Years Ago Section Editor: Jennifer Reiling, Assistant Editor.

JAMA. 2013;309(11):1088. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.145305

“Every lawyer when young should be apprenticed to some good physician, and should return to him regularly through life.” says Mr. G. M. Stratton1 in contrasting the spirit of medicine with the spirit of law. In accepting this graceful appreciation our profession might reply as simply as did Mark Twain who, in responding to the toasts at a dinner given in his honor, said that never before had he heard compliments so beautifully expressed or so well deserved.

Stratton, speaking of the spirit pervading each of these professions, finds that lawyers as a body, in their professional work, are “of the backward look,” while physicians keep pace with the advance of the natural sciences. The body of the law stands immovable, for it “represents the stability, the habit of our social life,” as against the creative energy of reform. “Of two Rip Van Winkles awakening to-day, the physician would find his old methods as rust-eaten and useless as his instruments; the lawyer, after a few hours with new statutes, would feel at home in any of our courts.” Too often the aim seems to be to play out a game with punctilious regard for all the rules, however minute, fantastic or technical, rather than to decide a weighty question with due sober respect for the grave human issues involved. Thus “an action for murder comes to nought because the complaint fails to state that John Smith slain was a human being.” Then too, the lawyer passes through the school of advocacy. In practice he is ready to fight on either side. This robs not only the attorney but also the judge of whatever rounded view he might otherwise have of his larger social duty, his responsibility to the public. The object of medicine is not in conflict with other social needs. The physician does not heal one man at the cost of the health of another. The lawyer too often defends one man's rights at the expense of another’s. “The individual lawyer is not free to put into operation some entirely new principle the value of which he may perceive; he is not free to experiment effectively,” as is the physician; It is to offset the deadening influences of the lawyer's work that Stratton advises him to seek inspiration from medicine. By intercourse with the physician he may find the spirit which is lacking in his own profession.

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