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October 28, 1974

Pedro de la Torre: Doctor to Conquerors

Author Affiliations

American Medical Association Chicago

JAMA. 1974;230(4):615-616. doi:10.1001/jama.1974.03240040081054

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De la Torre comes into history via three discrete episodes—1545, 1551, and 1554—each represented by bundles of archival documents. Professor Lanning, studying these documents, has provided a brilliant picture of a medical scoundrel and the complex social and cultural environment of an unfamiliar era. De la Torre, a braggart and liar, although apparently a talented one, claimed to be a medical graduate of Padua, but his "degree" was self-conferred. His first appearance in the archives concerns his prosecution for practicing medicine illegally, without qualifications. Convicted, he was subjected to severe penalties, but he managed not only to avoid these but even to resume practice, with the connivance of his judges. At this time, there were extremely few qualified medical men in the New World; epidemics, especially smallpox, were rife; rich people demanded medical attention; poor people wanted it; and the stage was set for charlatans.

In Torre's second appearance in