Christopher Lawrence

Christopher Lawrence is a lecturer in the history of medicine at the Wellcome Institute in London. He has written, with Daniel Fox, a book, due out this year, on the image of medicine in the photograph.

Political Anatomy

Christopher Lawrence, 3 April 1986

In January 1936 when George V was dying, Lord Dawson, his physician, wrote on the back of a menu card: ‘The King’s life is moving peacefully towards its close.’ This message was broadcast to the world by the infant BBC. Shortly afterwards Neville Chamberlain wrote that Dawson had touched the hearts of millions all over the world. In the last fifty years the media, trading in the human-interest story, have been the beauticians of the medical profession. Open any newspaper any day and find a close-up of the man with an artificial heart, the proud mother of test-tube quintuplets or the bank clerk who got to the wedding in spite of his broken leg. Medical journalism is powerful stuff, and at its most deadly when it seems to cast faint shadows on the object of its appetite. In spite of such chapter headings as ‘The Medical Mafia’, Donald Gould’s book is no petard, cunningly placed to give sceptics entry to Asklepios’s temple. It is a vibrant device for keeping agitation alive at the frontiers but orthodoxy safe within. At the kernel of this book is the stuff of which Mills and Boon surgeons are made.

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