The easy chair — From the January 1951 issue

Letter to a Family Doctor

( 2 of 7 )

I thank you for the publicity matter which you inclosed with your statement. I am especially glad to have the copy of Dr. Elmer L. Henderson’s inaugural address, “Medical Progress versus Political Medicine.” I understand that in sending me this material you were helping in the crusade which Messrs. Whitaker & Baxter outlined for you in “A Simplified Blueprint of the Campaign against Compulsory Health Insurance.” You must, they tell you there, “do double duty until this issue is resolved.” You must, they say, “help in treating the ills of the body politic.” But I must tell you that as part of the body politic I do not think you are qualified either to diagnose or to treat such illnesses, and I know that advertising agencies will make any diagnosis asked for on a fee-for-service basis.

Your proprietary advertising reached me opportunely. I was following the ads which you were running in the Boston newspapers. I found them dishonest, and they further annoyed me by the copywriter’s assumption that I am a fool. But they harmonized well with the ads on the opposite page, which were trying to sell me water from a radium spring that is guaranteed to cure everything from impotence to cancer. They set out to rouse the same fears to the same ends. Your radio commercials interested me too. Little dramatic sketches presented you as the old family doctor, with the nobility and self-sacrifice which copywriters now have you wearing like a streetwalker’s smile, and assured me that you were guarding my health (without fee, the implication was) and simultaneously protecting me from political enslavement. I observed that as soon as you signed off, another little drama came on. There was a woman who was very, very tired. She was so exhausted and suffered so much from backache that she could not greet her husband with the loving eagerness which alone could save their marriage. It turned out that she needed the dollar economy-size of a cathartic which acts painlessly, and I rejoiced that the advertising agencies were saving freedom, monogamy, and peristalsis in the same half-hour.

You and a tobacco company will relieve throat irritation; you and Seneca Snake Oil will get rid of gallstones. Your advertising has already cost you a very great deal of the prestige which the advertising agency told you would put your campaign over. And it has radically changed the relationship between you and me. Your ads speak of the trust between physician and patient, so noble it says here, so sacred, so certain to be destroyed by what the propaganda calls socialism. But I do not like any kind of solicitation that trades on prestige or on such fears and hopes as illness necessarily involves, and I will not tolerate political solicitation in a relationship of trust. Solicitors who call at my house must use the back door.

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