The Privilege of Medicine

“A Lacedaemonian was asked what had made him live healthy so long. ‘Ignorance of medicine’, he replied. And the Emperor Hadrian kept crying out as he was dying that the crowd of doctors had killed him. BA bad wrestler turned doctor. ‘Take heart’, Diogenes said to him, ‘you are right; now you will bring down those who brought you down before’. But they have this luck, according to Nicocles, that the sun shines on their successes, and the earth hides their failures. And besides, they have a very convenient way of making use of all kinds of results; for the good and the health that fortune, nature, or some other extraneous cause (of which the number is infinite) produces in us, it is the privilege of medicine to attribute to itself. All the happy results that happen to the patient who is under its care are due to it. The circumstances that have cured me and that cure a thousand others who do not call the doctors to their aid, they usurp in the case of their patients. And as for the mishaps, either they completely disavow them, by attributing the blame to the patient, for reasons so frivolous that they cannot possibly fail to find always a good enough number of them: he uncovered his arm; he heard the noise of a coach… someone opened his window; he lay down on his left side; or some troublesome thought passed through his head — in short, a word, a dream, a look, seems to them sufficient excuse to put the blame off their own shoulders. Or, if they so please, they actually make use of our getting worse, and do their business by this other means that can never fail them, which is to reward us, when the disease has become hotter by their prescriptions, with the assurance they give us that it would have become even worse without their remedies. The man whom they have cast from a chill into a quotidian fever, without them would have had a continued fever. They need not worry about doing their job badly, since the damage turns to their profit. Truly they are right to require the full confidence of the patient; it must indeed be well-intentioned and very pliable to apply itself to notions so hard to believe.” (Montaigne, tr. Frame)