Black Flag, Issue 231, Mid 2010, pp.20-23, under the title
Traditional histories of ‘western’ medicine usually pointed out a path of progress, overall, towards ‘scientific’ remedies, and in Britain the supposedly universal access to a health service provided by a benevolent state. Writers who were often doctors themselves paid homage to the great men, ‘fathers’ of this and that advance or specialism – a history riddled with paternity suits, as someone said. By the later 20th century this view was being challenged from various perspectives, including feminist ones; the work of medical historians, notably Roy Porter, transformed the subject, and the debates continue.
In Britain the later 18th century was a time of widespread satire and scepticism about medical practice and the power of doctors. John Moore, himself a Glasgow physician and surgeon, wrote in Medical Sketches, 1786: ‘The difference between a good physician and a bad one is certainly very great, but the difference between a good physician and no physician at all, in many cases, is very little.’ He advocated the ‘healing power of nature’ as against ‘being teased to swallow drugs... a species of distress to which the rich are more exposed than the poor, provided the latter keep out of hospitals.’