Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association, 16-December-2011, Vol 124 No 1347
Quackery and Proprietary Medicines: Part 2
Published in Dominion Notes section of NZMJ May 1912:11(42):136–138.
Continued from Part 1 at http://journal.nzma.org.nz/journal/124-1346/4979/
QUACKERY AND MEDICAL REFORMS
A plea for a Royal Commission by Henry Sewell, P. S. King and Sons, Westminster, is the title of a sixpenny pamphlet, written by a retired doctor, and from the usual narrow-minded attitude. That the general public knows what it wants, and can to a large extent defend itself, seems to be entirely beyond the possibilities of belief by the medical profession. They have no idea of the amount of pathetic and convincing testimony which can be supplied for nearly every proprietory medicine of benefits which have actually been received. The only occasion when this has been tested of late was when The Lancet was sued for libel, and the judge accepted the testimony of non-medical witnesses. That would be the experience whenever any case of this kind came definitely into the law courts.
No doubt much cruel quackery exists, but Sewell and similar writers make no attempt to discriminate, they pin their faith to absurd remedies. To imagine that the disclosure of the ingredients of a medicine would prevent its use is one of their common absurdities. It would have no such effect. They have no wit to devise a more practical and effective remedy. Such writers do not hesitate to say that the whole of the lay press is suborned by the advertising of proprietory medicines. The fact is that the newspaper proprietors have taken the opportunity, which the medical profession would scorn, of investigating at first hand the evidence that is brought forward by the owners of proprietory medicines. The lay press know perfectly well that the medical view is one-sided, inadequate, and cannot be maintained in the law courts. That is the difficulty the medical profession have to face.
When evidence is being given, suitable witnesses might take up the subject of the extraordinary and convincing and innumerable testimonials which are received by the proprietors of medicines in connnon use. Medical men may scoff as much as they like, but it is safe to say that every medicine which has been advertised, and which is fairly largely used, can produce a sheaf of letters containing obviously genuine testimonials as to the help that has been gained by the use of the medicine.
The medical profession may he inclined to disregard this evidence, but no jury would treat it in the same way. The medical expert may say that the writers of such testimonials must be altogether mistaken as to the causes which have produced the benefit. Yet people of that class are competent to give 'evidence or to act as jurymen in cases of murder and will be believed by the average judge and juryman more than the medical "expert."
These are facts which cannot be blinked. The agitators for stringent legislation against proprietary medicines make the mistake of indiscriminating attack on all alike, while they use weapons which are as useless as toy popguns. To the obvious retort that proprietors should not object to such harmless attacks the reply is that honest members of the community are entitled to protection against "insulting behaviour" even if it means only a popgun.
The only sensible procedure which has hitherto been suggested is the power taken to prohibit the sale of particular medicines, with appeal to a public court against the prohibition. What more is needed?
If evidence reaches the Health Department that certain medicines are injurious and have produced evil results then action can be taken to prohibit the sale. This puts upon the Health Department the duty of inquiry, and upon the owner of the medicine the burden of proving that -it is entitled to be sold to the general public. All suggestions as to labelling, the declaration of the presence of certain drugs, and so on are futile, not to say foozling.
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