Great Moments in the History of Patient Power

If there was a moment when the modern-day relationship between physicians and patients changed forever, it was when Dr. Benjamin McLane Spock, author and pediatrician, rose to address the closing session of the American Medical Association’s centenary meeting on June 13, 1947. Spock’s The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, published the previous year, had become a surprise best-seller in large part due to a startlingly untraditional approach to the doctor-patient relationship. The AMA’s original Code of Medical Ethics had advised doctors that “the obedience of a patient to the prescriptions of his physician should be prompt and implicit. [The patient] should never permit his own crude opinions as to their fitness to influence his attention to them.”

… In 1947, the “crude opinions” of patients were still held in such low esteem that pediatricians routinely gave anxious new mothers detailed schedules instructing them when to feed their infant. Yet here was Spock telling the House of Medicine that mothers could trust their own instincts and feed their babies “when he seems hungry, irrespective of the hour.”

… he pointed out that mothers deciding when to feed their babies was “obviously nature’s own [method], which was used by the entire human race until the turn of the century.”

Full article on Dr. Spock’s untraditional approach to the doctor-patient relationship.

Comments (6)

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  1. Candace says:

    Very interesting. Doctors don’t always know best. When I was younger, I was on a “eat when you’re hungry and sleep when you are tired” regime with no forced meal or bedtimes and I turned out perfectly healthy.

  2. Devon Herrick says:

    It is rather amusing (not to mention presumptuous) to assume new mothers were incapable of feeding their own infants. Were it not so, the human race would have dies out long ago.

  3. Brian Williams. says:

    Babies will let you know when they’re hungry. So will teenagers.

  4. Vicki says:

    Good for Spock.

  5. Virginia says:

    We give patients the right to choose their own care except in the case of terminally ill patients wanting to choose their death. We’ll have true patient autonomy when laws change to accept the wishes of these folks.

  6. Dial Doctors says:

    It’s amazing that Dr. Spock revolutionized medicine by simply applying what doctors knew all along: Human instincts can be right.

    A doctor’s job is to use that instinct along with the knowledge acquired in medical school to reach the best outcome.