Margaret Brazier
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The bumpy road to the General Medical Council
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Chapter 4 focuses on the road to the Medical Act 1858 which began the process of unification of the professions. It will be shown how the Act fell short of uniting the different orders of medical practitioners into a single medical profession. What the Act achieved by establishing the Medical Register was a means to identify practitioners recognised by the State as qualified to practise and entitled to be entered onto the register. The chapter reviews some of the many conflicting proposals for medical reform advanced by different groups. The first outcome of campaigns for reform, the Apothecaries Act 1815, is seen to be a damp squib. Sixteen Bills presented to Parliament from 1830 to 1858 failed. Noting that the only matter on which the orthodox agreed remained their abomination of unqualified healers all of whom the orthodox labelled as quacks, the chapter goes on to explore the use of the courts and prosecutions for manslaughter in attempts to scare unlicensed healers out of business. It is shown that the judges rejected pleas to privilege the licensed practitioner. Finally, the Medical Act 1858 and its lukewarm reception is assessed. The omission of measures to criminalise all unlicensed healers is explained. The Act marked a gradual move towards a partial merger of the orthodox professions making it easier for the courts to identify ‘responsible medical opinion’. Medicine can be seen to be a profession acquiring a stronger voice in debates about laws relating to matters such as abortion and anatomy.

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Law and healing

A history of a stormy marriage

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