BSEM conference 11th March 2011
‘Do no harm! That’, said Dr David Freed, introducing the British Society of Environmental Medicine’s excellent conference which he had also organised, ‘is the charge put upon doctors when they qualify. But do they?’
The assumption is that the more medical care is available, the more good it will do but the facts do not always bear this out. On two rare occasions when doctors actually went on strike (one in Canada in the 1950s and one more recently in Israel) their patients seem to have got better but, before any attempt is made to ban all doctors, association does not necessarily indicate causation.
The concept of disease prevention is relatively modern and dates from the invention of the small pox vaccine. Earlier generations of doctors saw their role as one of curing illness not preventing it – what right had they to interfere with perfectly healthy people?
However, smallpox was such a horrendous disease that the possibility that you could prevent someone catching it by injecting them with small quantity of infected serum, even if this carried significant risks (which it did – three to four deaths and around 1,000 cases of serious illness per 100,000 vaccinations) seemed worth pursuing.
However, the concept once established, does open the door to almost limitless opportunities for doctors to ’do harm’.