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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/790

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

practice of medicine was despised and confined to the humbler ranks of society and to slaves. Not until the influence of Grecian civilization made itself felt in the Roman capital did physicians gain honor or standing.

In the middle ages the calling suffered a relapse, to speak medically. Surgery was in ill repute, and Sprengel tells us that in Germany no artisan would employ a young man as an apprentice without a certificate that he was born in marriage of honest parents, and came of a family in which were found neither barbers, bathers nor "skinners," as surgeons were called.

Even at the present day, although the meritorious claims of the medical and surgical practitioner have been recognized, and an honorable social status awarded him, his mind is not at rest. The advancement and refinement of ideas have begotten deeper anxieties, and a feeling of responsibility. So jealously does the law guard the lives and persons of the people, that every time the physician writes a prescription, or the surgeon makes an incision, he takes his purse, his liberty, or, perhaps, his life in his hand. The risk is not all on the part of the patient, despite a popular impression that the only pocketbook likely to be depleted or the only life liable to be sacrificed is that of the sick man.

In undertaking the care of a patient the physician enters into legal relations with him and becomes a party to a contract, which, although not expressly set forth in writing, is yet, in the eye of the law, fixed and certain, and one which subjects him, in case of a breach on his part, to legal liabilities. He engages that he possesses that reasonable degree of learning, skill, and experience which is ordinarily possessed by the professors of the same art or science, and which is ordinarily regarded by the community or by those conversant with that employment as necessary and sufficient to qualify him to engage in such business. He contracts also to employ reasonable and ordinary care and diligence in the exertion of his skill and application of his knowledge to the matter in which he is employed.[1]

It is not necessary, in order to sustain an action against him for malpractice, that there should be proof of gross culpability on his part. He is on the same footing, and subject to the same degree of liability, as any other person who is engaged in the performance of services requiring skill and care. Both are equally responsible for a failure to exercise proper care, and for negligence in the discharge of the duty imposed upon them.[2] But extraordinary care is no more contracted for than the possession of extraordinary skill. If the physician has employed ordinary skill and care in the management of his case, he is not responsible if success does not crown his efforts. But, on the other hand, if he does not bring to the treatment of a disease the ordinary amount of skill possessed by those in the same

  1. T. Foster, New Hampshire, 460.
  2. 75 New York, 15.