How should we assess the historical development of health care? Many historians are deeply reluctant to endorse ideas involving progress in human affairs, including the evolution of modern medicine. We tend to think either that our present situation is little better than in the past, or that most kinds of value judgments about history are subjective and inappropriate. A laudatory approach to medical history commonly adopted by "amateur" medical historians in the tradition of Sir William Osler has often been eschewed by "professionals" as faulty, feel-good history. But Osler was right in his belief that, on balance, the progress of medicine has been spectacular, that modern health care offers one of the finest examples of the possibility of "man's redemption of man." Written objectively, medical history is about progress and achievement, and can properly seen as inspiring. If we mordantly or relativistically dismiss the unprecedentedly high quality of modern health care, we lose the ability to understand why citizens value it so highly, and this distorts our understanding of current issues. We also lose our sense of the wonders of human and medical achievement.


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pp. 402-408
Launched on MUSE
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