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Views & Reviews The Best Medicine

Passion required

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39535.585579.59 (Published 03 April 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:776
  1. Liam Farrell, general practitioner, Crossmaglen, County Armagh
  1. William.Farrell{at}528.gp.n-i.nhs.uk

A few years ago I felt compelled (out of both a sense of duty and a feeling of nausea) to chide the Independent about its complementary health guru. “Oooh, but he’s very popular,” was the newspaper’s defence. So is pornography, I said. “Oooh no,” they replied, in an outraged tone, “that wouldn’t be ethical,” though I reckoned that big tits on page 3 is a lot more ethical than snake oil salesmen peddling the illusion of knowledge to the gullible and the vulnerable.

But if even a newspaper as pretentious and worthily dull as the Independent can be trying to court the favour of the lumpen proletariat, then there is a lesson for all of us.

Every quarter someone (I don’t know who, some anonymous benefactor who thinks I should be bettering myself) sends me the Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin. As I am sometimes a good doctor, I read it, though I usually skip straight through to the conclusion. I suppose this is cheating, but it’s not an inviting read.

Its very appearance bespeaks gravity and austerity: no photographs, no colour, no poetic exaggeration, no leavening of humour, no swallow’s flight of whimsy. If it had been required reading for the Spartan children on their overnight ordeal on the mountain, most of them would have reneged and headed for Lesbos to chill out and smoke lotus petals. It is unfailingly cold and logical, the Mr Spock of medical journals, half human, half Vulcan.

Even the conclusion is tough going: dry and academic, every objective assessment cogently and impeccably argued, but I do wish for a bit more passion, more Bones McCoy than Mr Spock. We are not robots, not automatons, and we respond to the heart as well as the head; “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity,” said Yeats, but why should we cede the passionate intensity to the charlatans? We need ferocity, we need the rage to win, we need the rough beast.

If the Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin is right, and it always is, its message should be throbbing with righteous wrath, and appeal to the emotion as well as the intellect. I’m thinking something like “Mandy is 22, enjoys dancing, shopping and dwarf-smuggling, and wants to work for world peace and marry a footballer.

“And she thinks that this new non-steroidal anti-inflammatory is shit.”

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