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Ivan Illich and medical nemesis
  1. J P Bunker
  1. University College London, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Professor J P Bunker
 13 The Green, Twickenham TW2 5TU, UK;

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The appropriation of health

In 1974 Richard Smith, the editor of the British Medical Journal, and I each attended lectures by Ivan Illich. Smith, then a medical student in Edinburgh, heard him claim that “the major threat to health in the world is modern medicine.” While a visiting professor in Boston that same year I heard him make the same claim. Smith recalls that listening to Illich was “the closest I ever came to a religious experience”.1 I had a somewhat different reaction, one tempered by the exchange between Illich and a medical student after his lecture. The student, raising his hand, said “but Dr. Illich, I just want to help sick people”, to which Illich replied with a sneer that “you’re no better than the Nazi doctors.” Smith’s reaction was to drop out of medical school (for three days). Mine was disgust.

Looking back today I realise that …

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