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Of Medicine and Men

Biographies and Ideas in European Social Medicine between the World Wars

Iris Borowy and Anne Hardy

Social medicine was one of the key health paradigms of the early twentieth century. It perceived public health as a function of social conditions and aimed at improving it through comprehensive, horizontal strategies. Yet, it was no homogeneous or static phenomenon. Depending on time, place and circumstances, it took different, sometimes ideologically contradictory forms. This volume portrays leading medical experts from seven European countries. Their juxtaposition reveals a network of international interaction and shows how different people coped with the crises of the time in different ways, sometimes as part of the scientific mainstream, sometimes as opposition under attack, sometimes in exile. Their biographies reflect an ambivalent interplay of biomedicine, politics and social theory.

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Dr Melville Mackenzie (1889-1972): 'Feed the people and prevent disease, and be damned to their politics.' (Zoe C. Sprigings)

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Dr Melville Mackenzie (1889 - 1 972) 1 03 'Feed the people and prevent disease, and be damned to their politics.' 1 Zoe C. Sprigings Introduction The inte1twined nature of politics and healthcare is now such an established con­ cept that belief in their bifurcation is dismissed as a 'myth' belonging to a by­ gone age. 2 However, Melville Mackenzie steadfastly held onto this ideal as an achievable reality throughout his I ife and, as one of the founders of the WHO, his views merit some interrogation. The introductory quotation epitomises his functionalist argument that healthcare could and should be a politically neutral service guided only by concem for the patient' s medical needs.3 lt was written in a rare outburst of passion in 1 922, and another two decades passed before Mackenzie provided his one and only elaboration of this, his guiding principle: [ medicine] has great power and influence, and for this reason is the easier to utilize for other ends than the purely medical welfare of the human race. Party political preoccupations may too readily be­ come reasons for carrying out a particular piece of work which may achieve its non-medical object even if done in an entirely superfi­ cial manner, an effective face which can have no lasting benefit . . . progress in the science of medicine, the good it can bring to all peo­ ples of the world, and how each can benefit from the experience of others should be the only concems of an international medical Or...

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