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Apologia II - My rebuttal to the Michigan State Legislature

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Tuesday, 26 February 1991

I have repeatedly claimed that you legislators, lawyers, clerics, and physicians are helping to keep this hostage society in the continuing Dark Ages. I will now give you the proof of it, and the evidence in which you will see yourselves in the dark past.

In case some of you don't know who Andreas Vesalius was, I'll start with the fact that he is considered to be the esteemed and honored "father of anatomy, who established the scientific basis of the discipline early in the 15th century.1 "He found anatomy a superstition; he left it a rational science."(p. 153) His monumental book with superb illustrations, De Humani Corporis Fabrica, today is a rare classic. "To produce material for his artistic plates, Vesalius was a habitual haunter of gibbets. He bribed dead-house keepers, and on more than one occasion became a grave robber; because, like me, he was scientifically, not morbidly, obsessed with death.

Vesalius was forced to leave Padua after his book was published...Like Copernicus and like Galileo, and like all those who fought against dogma and ignorance, he was blocked, denounced, scorned, and hated."5(p. 47) And like Vesalius, my refusal to give up "controversial" research dealing with experiments on willing anesthetized condemned men during their execution forced me to leave the University of Michigan and to be subjected to the same vilification. "After 1556, the church no longer opposed dissection of human cadavers, and every medical school offered regular anatomic dissections" (pp. 47-8) How many more centuries is it going to take before religious and medical opposition allows scientists to deal with death without intimidation? Dark Ages indeed!

Without a doubt many of you know who Dr. Edward Jenner was,--his astute work as a general practitioner led to smallpox vaccination and eventual disappearance of a deadly intermittent pestilence. "At his local county medical society meeting, one doctor said, 'I confess to grave doubts as to my colleague's competence if he is willing to clothe the superstitions of milkers and herdsmen in the mantle of scientific investigation," (referring to Jenner's sharp recognition of the connection between the relatively innocuous cowpox virus which he learned would prevent deadly smallpox).4 (pp.100-102... "Another surgeon rose: 'I agree entirely with the views of the preceding speaker...I move that Mr. Jenner be sternly rebuked and warned not to pursue his dangerous researches further on pain of being expelled from this organization.' There was a burst of applause." I hope you readers now understand why I don't belong to any medical organization, for I wouldn't last long as a member.

"Jenner was stunned. He had expected the report to receive some criticism from the more conservative members. But he had not anticipated such a violent onslaught." Judge Alice Gilbert's harangue and injunction against me springs to mind here.

"No colleague would help Jenner in his research."(pp.100-102). And at first none would help me. "Now he (Jenner) would have to go on alone. He did not shrink from the prospect for he had gotten into the habit of working by himself over the years. While outside help might have enabled him to reach his goal sooner, he actually preferred the independence of working alone." (I hope you now also understand why individuals like Jenner and me are derided as "mavericks" coerced into becoming lone rangers who appear to be "dangerous" rebels.

"Most of the surgeons were polite in rejecting his plan, but several seemed to look upon him as some sort of eccentric. A few even stared down their noses as if to ask, 'Who is this presumptuous country surgeon who is convinced he has found the answer to a puzzle (smallpox) that has eluded the best medical brains for decades?' For the first time in his life Jenner could understand why John Hunter had raged so at some of his medical colleagues. The solid wall of indifference was disheartening." (p.146) I learned it earlier, in the late 50's, when I was working with condemned criminals for voluntary organ donation at execution. I was never despondent, because I had one advantage over Jenner: several centuries of historical perspective which I am now trying to impart to you.)

"The opposition of a small vocal segment of the medical profession proved to be more effective....They made every attempt to belittle the importance of the discovery" (p.154) In my case, that opposition is from the very vocal, powerful, and sanctimonious American Medical Association in collusion with the even more powerful and sanctimonious religious hierarchy to which the benumbed physicians have timidly ceded their ethical code.

Vesalius was at once denounced as an imposter and heretic...greeted upon every hand with calumny and vituperation, with prejudice gaining and the law beginning to frown."(p.154, 5). By interfering with conventional thought, Vesalius had made many enemies, and repercussions were soon to follow. The next year he was carried before the Inquisition on the charge of dissecting a living body," and therefore compelled to make an act of penitence."

The famed Dr. William Harvey, discoverer of blood circulation, fared little better. Harvey lost much of his reputation and many of his patients owing to the attacks of his colleagues, who spread it abroad that he was little better than crack-brained.2 (p.117)

Here's a short paragraph from page 85 of a book on medical history3 (p.85). "Christian teaching emphasized the earlier belief that sickness and disease were punishments that fell on man for his sins. There was nothing he could do about this but atone by fasting and prayers. Against this dogmatism the rational clinical teaching of Hippocratic medicine was ineffective; in fact, a rational approach to ill health was considered sacrilegious and a direct criticism of the Great Physician, God. The human body, being a divine creation, could not be subjected to the impious hands of the dissectors, and so its study at first hand was condemned as a crime against God and man"...Much prejudice had to be broken down before human dissection became a common part of training in surgery." (p. 103).

Not many people are aware of another travesty against humanism. According to another historical account1 (P.272): "Convention had made it an insult to the Deity to assist a woman in labor. This was a crime which always drew the extreme penalty in medieval Europe. In 1521 Viethes, a Hamburg physician, was arrested for attempting to mitigate the pains of a woman's labor. By nature Viethes was generous and kind, and his patient, a frail woman, begged for relief. Her entreaties reached the heart of this good man, and he complied with her request. Immediately the wheels of the law began to turn, and a conviction was soon obtained for the crown. A few weeks later an unusual light shone over Hamburg. They were burning Dr. Viethes...But did not this spirit die with the Middle Ages, you ask?" Unfortunately, you don't ask. That is why I am telling you this now. And that is why a couple of generations ago in the 20th century Margaret Sanger, too, struggled vainly to tell you. This is an ugly example of what unspeakably absurd barbarity can develop out of such mentality; and this august legislature is on the verge of doing it again.

I'll close with these words of Margaret Sanger herself, directed primarily to my medical colleagues.7 (p.95) "Shall we fold our hands and wait until a body of sleek and well-fed politicians get ready to abolish the cause of human misery (abortion)? Shall we look upon a piece of parchment (law) as greater than human happiness, greater than human life? Shall we who respond to the throbbing pulse of human needs concern ourselves with indictments, courts, and judges, or shall we do our work first and settle with these evils after?" Evils indeed, which any true physician would denounce and demolish. Where are the true physicians? Probably the same place they were when the compassionate Dr. Viethes was roasted alive.

"We must recapture the most fundamental idea in our jurisprudence—the rule of law. Our laws must be fair, based on common sense and easily understood by the citizens who are expected to live under them;...and they must be molded to the needs of society and not to any group's arbitrary standard." 6 (p.28, emphasis added)

Let no reader think that it is arrogance which compels me to equate my situation with that of those giants of medical history. I use their examples not as an implied presumption of equal historical stature, but rather because of common circumstances; and, like them, I know I am right. And, like them, time will vindicate me and disgrace my detractors. And in case you're wondering what my future plans are: simply to emulate Vesalius. And to quote Margaret Sanger, I shall attempt to nullify immoral laws (which, by the way, are illegal through infringement of the precious but unused Ninth Amendment in our Constitution) by direct action and attend to the consequences afterward.


1.Atkinson, D T: Magic, Myth, and Medicine. The World Publ. Co., Cleveland, 1956.

2.Chauvois, L: William Harvey: His Life & Times. Philosophical Library, NY, 1957.

3. Leff, S and Leff, V: From Witchcraft to World Health. Macmillan, NY, 1957.

4. Levine, I V: Conqueror of Smallpox. Julian Messner, Inc., NY, 1960.

5. Silverberg, R: The Great Doctors. G. P. Putnam & Sons, NY, 1964.

6. Crovitz, G: How law destroys order, National Review, 11 Feb 1991, p.28.

7. Singer, M: My Fight for Birth Control. Farrar & Rinehart, Inc, NY, 1931.

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