Molière on the Modern Healthcare System

There are times, when overcome by irritation at our modern medical system, which is expensive, run by insurance companies and all too often, populated by doctors who seemingly aspire to ever greater heights of corporate efficiency even as they resolutely neglect their bedside manners and care little about outcomes while ordering an array of expensive and unnecessary diagnostic tests, I descend into bitterness, muttering dark imprecations about how far the two professions that I admired as a child–journalism and medicine–have fallen.

At moments like those it is best to comfort oneself with a little Molière on doctors; he seems to have anticipated the modern, insurance-company run medical system too.

From Love’s the Best Doctor, Scene Two:

LISETTE. What do you want with four doctors, master? Isn’t one enough to kill the girl off?

SGANARELLE. Be quiet. Four opinions are better than one.

LISETTE. Can’t your daughter be allowed to die without the help of all those fellows?

SGANARELLE. You don’t mean to suggest that doctors do people in?

LISETTE. Of course they do. I knew a man who used to maintain that you should never say such and such a person perished of a fever or pleurisy but that he died of four doctors and two apothecaries.

SGANARELLE. Be quiet! We mustn’t offend these gentlemen.

LISETTE. Upon my word, master, our cat fell from the housetop into the street a while back and yet he got better. He ate nothing for three days and never moved a muscle. It was lucky for him that there aren’t any cat doctors or they would have soon finished him off. They would have purged him and bled him and –

SGANARELLE. Oh, be quiet, I tell you! I never heard such nonsense. Here they come.

LISETTE. Now you will be well edified. They will tell you in Latin that there is nothing wrong with the girl.

Enter DOCTORS TOMÉS, DES-FONANDRÉS, MACROTIN, BAHYS

….

DR. TOMÉS. Well, while we are talking, what is your opinion of the controversy between Dr. Théopraste and Dr. Artimius? It seems to be dividing the whole faculty into opposing camps.

DR. DES-FONANDRÉS. I’m on Artimius’ side.

DR. TOMÉS. Yes, so am I. Of course his treatment, we know, killed the patient, and Théopraste’s ideas might have saved him, but Théopraste was in the wrong all the same. He shouldn’t have disputed the diagnosis of a senior colleague. Don’t you think so?

DR. DES-FONANDRÉS. No doubt about it! Stick to professional etiquette whatever happens.

DR. TOMÉS. Yes, I’m all for rules – except between friends. Only the other day three of us were called in for consultation with a man outside the faculty. I held up the whole business. I wouldn’t allow anyone to give an opinion at all unless things were done professionally. Of course the people of the house had to do what they could in the meantime, and the patient went from bad to worse, but I wouldn’t give way. The patient died bravely in the course of the argument.

DR. DES-FONANDRÉS. It’s a very good thing to teach people how to behave and make them aware of their ignorance.

DR. TOMÉS. When a man’s dead he’s dead and that’s all it amounts to, but a point of etiquette neglected may seriously prejudice the welfare of the entire medical profession.

One comment on “Molière on the Modern Healthcare System

  1. […] few weeks ago, I had made note here of a brief excerpt from Molière’s Love’s the Best Doctor, which r…. Today, here is another master of comedy–Ben Jonson–on doctors. (A […]

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