MARCH IN MEDICINE
When a group of twenty-seven members of the Harvard Medical Faculty put their names to a series of proposals and principles for the extension and development of governmental aid for medicine last week, they were not only setting an example of leadership consonant with the Harvard medical tradition, but making a very definite contribution to the advancement of the practice in America. For while the proposals for the increased endowment of the art of healing by government for the benefit of the population do not represent anything new in the way of medical thought, the realization that immediate steps are needed to improve the condition of the "medically indigent" in the community demands that steps be taken.
The reason that the proposals for governmental extension of medical care for the poor, and also for further state endowment of medical education and research, is so eminently sound in the way the committee of doctors has presented it, is because, unlike so many governmental extensions today, it looks for the use of existing agencies to carry out the program. Though the thought of a paternalistic federal bureaucracy dealing out the loaves and fishes to favored medical organizations in the future is enough to conjure up the doubts of even the most fervent believers in governmental encroachment, there is no need for such fear. The proposals provide that governmental moneys advanced should, first, be used by existing agencies, such as the countless private, municipal, and state hospitals that are now supplying care to the needy, and, second, that the moneys should be dispensed by, and the direction left in complete control of, experts. By experts is meant the physicians on whom, in the last analysis, falls the real burden of caring for the sick.
The soundest feature of the report is the statement in unequivocal terms of a social concept that has been up to this time a fundamental part of our democratic social order, but has escaped general notice in the emphasis on other phases of our political and economic problems. That principle is is that one of the functions of government is to look after the health of its citizens. It is obvious, when one stops to think of the contagious diseases--typhoid fever, dyptheria, and the like--which twenty years ago held the population in their grip, and which now are rare occurrences, how much public health services and public hospitals have contributed to stamping out these diseases. The democracy does provide curative treatment for its citizens, and to have this care extened to wiping out disease through prevention is just one step forward in the march of our civilization.
Of course there are physicians who honestly look askance at further governmental connection with their profession. To these can be given the assurance that the present proposals do not represent anything revolutionary, and they are to be administered and directed, in the interests of all concerned, by experts, doctors. It is hard to believe that there can be anything but good to be expected from such a venture to improve, in one and the same effort, the conditions of the poor and the standing and service of the medical profession.