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The Life-Saving And Life Prolonging Art
by [?]

In the minds of the public there is a mystery about the practice of medicine. It deals more or less with the unknown, with the occult, it appeals to the imagination. Doubtless confidence in its practitioners is still somewhat due to the belief that they are familiar with the secret processes of nature, if they are not in actual alliance with the supernatural. Investigation of the ground of the popular faith in the doctor would lead us into metaphysics. And yet our physical condition has much to do with this faith. It is apt to be weak when one is in perfect health; but when one is sick it grows strong. Saint and sinner both warm up to the doctor when the judgment Day heaves in view.

In the popular apprehension the doctor is still the Medicine Man. We smile when we hear about his antics in barbarous tribes; he dresses fantastically, he puts horns on his head, he draws circles on the ground, he dances about the patient, shaking his rattle and uttering incantations. There is nothing to laugh at. He is making an appeal to the imagination. And sometimes he cures, and sometimes he kills; in either case he gets his fee. What right have we to laugh? We live in an enlightened age, and yet a great proportion of the people, perhaps not a majority, still believe in incantations, have faith in ignorant practitioners who advertise a “natural gift,” or a secret process or remedy, and prefer the charlatan who is exactly on the level of the Indian Medicine Man, to the regular practitioner, and to the scientific student of mind and body and of the properties of the materia medica. Why, even here in Connecticut, it is impossible to get a law to protect the community from the imposition of knavish or ignorant quacks, and to require of a man some evidence of capacity and training and skill, before he is let loose to experiment upon suffering humanity. Our teachers must pass an examination–though the examiner sometimes does not know as much as the candidate,–for misguiding the youthful mind; the lawyer cannot practice without study and a formal admission to the bar; and even the clergyman is not accepted in any responsible charge until he has given evidence of some moral and intellectual fitness. But the profession affecting directly the health and life of every human body, which needs to avail itself of the accumulated experience, knowledge, and science of all the ages, is open to every ignorant and stupid practitioner on the credulity of the public. Why cannot we get a law regulating the profession which is of most vital interest to all of us, excluding ignorance and quackery? Because the majority of our legislature, representing, I suppose, the majority of the public, believe in the “natural bone-setter,” the herb doctor, the root doctor, the old woman who brews a decoction of swamp medicine, the “natural gift” of some dabbler in diseases, the magnetic healer, the faith cure, the mind cure, the Christian Science cure, the efficacy of a prescription rapped out on a table by some hysterical medium,–in anything but sound knowledge, education in scientific methods, steadied by a sense of public responsibility. Not long ago, on a cross-country road, I came across a woman in a farmhouse, where I am sure the barn-yard drained into the well, who was sick; she had taken a shop-full of patent medicines. I advised her to send for a doctor. She had no confidence in doctors, but said she reckoned she would get along now, for she had sent for the seventh son of a seventh son, and didn’t I think he could certainly cure her? I said that combination ought to fetch any disease except agnosticism. That woman probably influenced a vote in the legislature. The legislature believes in incantations; it ought to have in attendance an Indian Medicine Man.