Professional shame

March 10, 2006

David Southall suggests that the reason the General Medical Council struck off Sir Roy Meadow was a perceived need to redress previous failures of regulation ("Justice for a hero of hidden errors", February 24). He rightly says the GMC should be ashamed.

Meadow's use of covert surveillance to demonstrate a particular form of child abuse led to his expertise in child protection cases and "shaken baby syndrome" convictions, four of which were overturned. No convictions were overturned in 88 other cases reviewed. Meadow's work therefore saved the lives of children.

A good historical example of the power of the medical establishment to suppress progress on issues of professional shame is that of Ignaz Semmelweiss. He recognised that puerperal sepsis was caused by a failure to wash hands before internal examination of a woman. He had to persuade others of his case before later work showed conclusively that infections were caused by germs. He met resistance and a medical journal urged an end to his chlorine treatment. Semmelweiss denounced respected obstetric teachers as murderers. He suffered a mental breakdown and was committed to an asylum, where he died.

It is not surprising that we take an anti-rational approach to dealing with illness. We want a quick, cheap, painless and complete cure. We need more doctors such as Meadow who will face up to medical deceptions.

D. B. Double Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health Partnership

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