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JAMA 100 Years Ago
March 18, 1998


Author Affiliations

Edited by Brian P. Pace, MA, Assistant Editor.

JAMA. 1998;279(11):832E. doi:10.1001/jama.279.11.832

A letter from the University of Bonn recites a tragedy following a difference between surgeons. An armed encounter between members of the medical profession at this the close of the nineteenth century was certainly not to be anticipated, but the old saying that it is always the unexpected which arrives has once more been verified. It is only too true that a duel was recently fought at Bonn, the combatants being both medical practitioners, and most unfortunately one of them met with his death from a penetrating wound of the thorax. It seems that two of the assistants of a surgical clinic named Reusing and Fischer, had a violent altercation over a professional matter, the former accusing his colleague of malpractice in the conduct of an operation, and as apparently there was no older and wiser person at hand to pour oil on the troubled waters a hostile meeting ensued, with the above mentioned deplorable result. That duels should still survive on the Continent, especially in military circles is perhaps not to be wondered at under the existing regime, but happily the vast majority of medical men of all nationalities are the possessors of well balanced minds, and recourse among them to the argumentum baculinum for the adjustment of technical disputes must be an altogether exceptional occurrence. Complaints are often heard of the overcrowding of the medical profession on the other side of the channel, but of all the depletory methods the slaying of one's confrère is surely the least philosophic. A duel at the present day is an anachronism. As a mode of settling scientific controversy it is not only out of date, but also about the most illogic procedure conceivable. Killing an opponent does not prove the survivor's case; while the gratification of an ignoble feeling of personal resentment is dearly purchased at the expense of life-long remorse. The principals in a duel are blameworthy, but for them there are excuses, seeing that most human beings are more or less passionate by nature. For the seconds, generally speaking, there is absolutely nothing to be said. They are simply the abettors of a crime in which they run no bodily risk, and it is against them that retributive justice should be mainly directed. If seconds would only consider the heinousness of their position, there would soon be an end of dueling.