Paul Hartal


Death by Prescription Poem by Paul Hartal


The biting sarcasm of the 18th century
French philosopher Voltaire took aim
At medicine with these caustic words:
“Physicians pour drugs”, he said,
“Of which they know little, to cure diseases
Of which they know less, into human beings
Of which they know nothing”.

One can argue, of course, that since then
Medicine has advanced a great deal.
And, no doubt, modern doctors nowadays
Can perform miraculous operations,
And have a prodigious pharmacopoeia
From which they can choose and administer
A variety of wondrous healing drugs
That save many lives.

Nevertheless, Voltaire’s critique
Of medicine is still valid.
His claims are borne out by the evidence
Of statistics. Studies published, for example,
By the American Medical Association
Conclude that in the USA an estimated
12,000 people die annually
Because of unnecessary surgery.
Furthermore, over 100,000 patients die
Yearly in hospitals as a result of medical
Errors and infections,
And more than 100,000 die
Because of the adverse reactions
To appropriately and correctly prescribed
Medications.

This means that iatrogenesis,
Harmful medical treatments,
Cause an estimated quarter million deaths
Per year in the United States alone;
A number, which renders medicine the third
Leading cause of death in America,
After heart disease and cancer.
This also means that doctors kill
More people than cars and murderers
Do.

Submitted: Saturday, December 21, 2013

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Poet's Notes about The Poem

This poem is based on scientific research. My source materials included:


1. L. Leape, “Unnecessary Surgery”, Annual Review of Public Health; May 1992, Vol.13,363-83

2. Barbara Starfield, MD, MPH, “Is US Health Really the Best in the World? ”, JAMA (Journal of American Medical Association) , July 26,2000, Vol.284, No.4,483-5

3. Ray D. Strand, MD, with Donna K. Wallace, Death by Prescription; Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers,2003

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