The future of medicine

In the BMJ (subscription required) Dalrymple writes of an unfinished work, The Narrative of John Smith, from one of his favorite authors:

The manuscript of the first novel by one of the most famous of all doctor-authors, Arthur Conan Doyle, was lost in the post on its way to the publishers: a disaster for an author in the days before computers, photocopiers, typewriters, or even carbon paper. But Conan Doyle was nothing if not plucky, to use a slightly old fashioned term for an old fashioned virtue: he tried to reconstitute the novel by writing it out again, only to realise halfway through that it would never do…

On one of his visits, [protagonist] Dr Turner, who enjoys a good intellectual discussion with his patient and appears to have time for it, outlines the future of medicine as he (and the author) sees it:
The infectious diseases depend, each and all of them, upon the presence in the blood of these minute creatures [the bacteria], and their varying symptoms are due to the different malignancy of the microbes, or to their preference for this or that part of the body. In time we shall have the attenuated virus of every one of these diseases, and by mixing them together will be able, by a single inoculation, to fortify the constitution against them. Zymotic disease, sir, will be stamped out. Typhus. Typhoid, cholera, malaria, hydrophobia, scarlatina, diphtheria, measles and probably consumption will cease to exist . . .
This is remarkable, considering that it was written in 1883. And just as remarkable is his contrast of the medical and legal professions:
Who ever heard of a congress of lawyers for the purpose of simplifying the law and discouraging litigation? Unhealthy times mean good times for the medics. If they were to follow no higher dictates than those of their own interests, we should have the British Medical Association setting a fund on foot for the impeding of drainage and stopping up of sewers. Of the 30 000 physicians and surgeons of the British Islands, the vast majority are practical philanthropists of the highest order.

3 thoughts on “The future of medicine

  1. Louise

    The late Thomas Szasz has a lot to say about Conan Doyle in Psychiatry: The Science of Lies.

    One more neuroleptic for the road?
    (The one drug the good doc actually approves of.)

    Psychiatry and the law are interdependent. The law can exist without psychiatry but psychiatry cannot exist without the law.

  2. Jaxon

    The spirit of the law, the letter of the law???

    Wherefore lies the spirit of the law? I’d argue (make the case?) that Dalrymple is perhaps the best expositor on this, in the world.

  3. Shawn Williams

    I’m not surprised the creator of Sherlock Holmes could come up with intelligent discourses like these. It was also an exciting time for the research of medicine and health care as many breakthroughs in medicine happened during this period. Doyle’s statement, both as a health care professional and as an author reflects the more the spirit of his time then any form of prediction he was making. He was after all, a writer, and writers, like Jules Verne and George Orwell, have uncanny abilities to speak of a future that somehow becomes reality. If you asked me, it is the keen eye of a writer, and not a soothsayer, that these statements are made from.


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