Margaret Brazier
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Medico-legal history
Why bother?
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Chapter 1 explains why we should bother, setting out the case for the importance of medico-legal history. It challenges assumptions that medical law is new, and that, when law did engage with medicine, judges showed blind deference to the ‘medical man’. The chapter argues that, to the contrary, medical law has a rich history stretching back several centuries. The law courts, the Crown and Parliament were all regularly engaged with medicine. Setting the scene for the following chapters, Chapter 1 sketches out the organisation of health care from circa the sixteenth to the start of the twentieth centuries. It demonstrates that demand for health care has always been high. Our ancestors were as anxious about their health as we are and had access to a range of diverse healers. Doctors look very different following the tripartite division of medicine common in Continental Europe and divided into the three orders of physicians, surgeons and apothecaries, referred to in this work as orthodox practitioners. Each of the orthodox had its own medical corporation and the three orthodox groups were often at odds resorting to the courts to fight their internecine battles. The only matter on which the orthodox agreed was their loathing of the many traditional healers and again the law courts were the fora where the dispute was played out. The impact of the Medical Act 1858 and the contemporaneous development of biomedical science based on laboratory investigation, rigorous testing and assessment of results are noted.

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