Intended for healthcare professionals

Sacred Cows

The accelerating pace of change

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: (Published 19 December 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:1731
  1. James Willis, general practitioner
  1. Alton Health Centre, Alton, Hampshire GU34 2QX

    Gêronte: It seems to me you are locating them wrongly: the heart is on the left and the liver is on the right. Sganarelle: Yes, in the old days that was so, but we have changed all that, and we now practise medicine by a completely new method. Act II, scene 4, Le Médecin Malgré Lui by Moliére

    Once upon a time (it's all changed now) everyone knew a song called The Vicar of Bray.1 The words—suitable, somehow, in their buccolic, 17th century way, for Christmas—highlight the absurdity of our belief that our era is uniquely prone to change.

    As King James succeeded King Charles, followed by King William, Queen Anne, and finally King George, the Vicar of Bray swung back and forth, left and right, Protestant and Catholic, Whig and Tory, to cling to his living. Like Euripides' Trojan women being carried across the Aegean to slavery, the ceaseless incursions of rapacious Vikings into Medieval Britain, and the recent obliteration of great tracts of Bangladesh and Nicaragua …

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