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JAMA 100 Years Ago
March 4, 2009

Bernard Shaw on Physicians: Socialistic Criticism of the Profession

JAMA. 2009;301(9):978. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.151

MEDICAL NEWS

LONDON LETTER

(From Our Regular Correspondent)

   LONDON, Feb. 20, 1909.

Mr. Bernard Shaw is always original, and though he revels in the paradox and finds our most cherished institutions only subjects for his satire, he has to be taken seriously. Amid his extravagant and socialistic views will often be found sound criticism. At the Medico-Legal Society he opened a discussion on the “Socialist Criticism of the Medical Profession.” He said that the physician at the present day had practically been driven into the position of a private tradesman. The medical profession had never accepted that position as a matter of theory, but its members had been forced into it as a matter of fact. The average physician was abjectly poor as a result of competition. The attitude of socialism toward a poor man was that he was a bad and dangerous person, and when the physician was poor he was particularly dangerous. It was not possible for him to carry out those hygienic measures which he knew to be necessary, and he had to pander to the foibles and ignorance of patients so as not to lose them. The ordinary patient demanded cheap cures, and to gratify him the physicians had to perpetrate a swindle. The medical profession must be socialized because physicians were more and more driven to claim powers over the liberty of the ordinary man which could not possibly be entrusted to any private body. If there was to be compulsory hygiene and the people were to be compelled to do this, that and the other for the health of the community, there must be democratic control, otherwise it would become an intolerable tyranny. No doubt there would be private practitioners even after the physician had been placed in the position of public officer of health. Both the physician and the patient would always have the alternative of being delivered over to the tender mercies of private enterprise. But if the physician found the position of having to depend on the caprice and ignorance of private persons intolerable, he would, under socialism, get into an independent position in the public service.

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