Surgeons, Physicians, Apothecaries and Quacks

We had quite a peculiar tutorial last week – we attended a funeral in Second Life.  It was a strange occasion and somewhat sobering, particularly as deceased was the four year old son of Lord Isaac: George.  It was not  surprising that the youngest member of the family died as infant mortality rates in Georgian London were incredibly high, in 1806 30% of all deaths in that year in London were children under 2.  Yet this is a time and place where we see a dramatic rise in physicians, surgeons, apothecaries and general practitioners.  Even the specialist doctor evolves in this time, so why is infant mortality high?  There may have been a growing number of men in these professions but that doesn’t mean they were very good at it.

From reading Roy Porter it seems that as a whole the profession in London was more about climbing the social ladder and making money than any altruistic reagrdfor helping humanity.  The College of Physicians restricted its membership to gentlemen who had graduated from Oxford or Cambridge and who belongedo the Church of England.  Once separated from Barbers both legally and professionally The Company of Surgeons was a money making concern who gained rights and privledges to further their own wealth.  Neither of these still repsected insitutions contributed much to the improvement or discovery of medical knowledge or technique. 

Apothecaries weren’t above reproach either.  They were prevented to charge for any advice they proffered but could profit greatly from the medicines and elixirs they sold.  Medicine in the Georgian era is oft called “The Golden Age of Quackery” as one could make what ever claims they liked with very little recourse (other than being driven out of town).

Hospitals sprung up in London, but again not due to the medical profession but through the philanthropy of the middling classes; clergy and merchants who were appauledby the lack of access to health care for the general masses.  I still don’t think I would have gone to one of these hospitals though.  I have an English friend who has the mantra, "Never go to hospital, its full of sick people."   I think she was right, although setup with the noblest intentions the best that some could do was act as a quarantine to prevent the spread of disease adn I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to be mentally ill.

It appears that Londoners got the raw end of the deal in this apsect of life as the Medical Profession ws not stagnant in other parts of the world.  Edinburgh and Leiden were truning out Physicians that were well educated and trained within an hospital internship.

Has much changed since then?  Medical knowledge and technology has certianly improved the life expectancy of the Western world but for those who don’t have access to it, it hasn’t changed anything including knowing that it is still unfair.

Author: Soosie

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