Socialists & Capitalist Hospitals

Why “capitalist” hospitals? the non-Socialist will ask. Because the diseases and injuries there treated are caused, almost entirely by the unhealthy conditions of life of the workers, imposed upon them by the capitalist system, or negligence of the employers to provide accident preventing appliances. Because, also, as consistent Socialists have always pointed out, the patients, mostly of the working-class, are used to experiment on for the benefit of the propertied class.

“The hospitals, it should be remembered, are the training schools of the medical profession,” wrote London’s Lord Mayor in 1899, “and for that reason deserve grateful recognition and adequate support.” The treatment meted out to the “subjects” is detailed by a medical practitioner in the Grand Magazine in the course of which he declares that although medical students must learn their business, patients also have rights—but the poorer class of these, especially women, are treated as if they were destitute of human feeling. He asserts that in every hospital recognised by the Medical Council as a place of instruction for students the treatment of the patients is entirely subordinated to the instruction of those students and that it may be said with perfect truth that the girls and young women who attend the public hospitals gain the possible healing of their bodies at the expense of mortal injury to their souls. What, he asks, must be the moral effect on a modest girl who goes to a hospital complaining of some trivial ailment, and is stripped naked to the waist, and subjected to the salacious scrutiny of some dozens of youths who lay hands on her and maul her about to their hearts’ content? It is immaterial whether she complains of or has anything the matter with her chest or not. She, in common with her sisters in misfortune, is utilised as “material” for the instruction of students. At one time he saw 14 young women of ages from 12 to 25, all standing stripped in this manner. One girl, aged 18, told him she had been attending the hospital nearly every fortnight for over three years. Imagine how much modesty would he left in her after exhibiting herself in this fashion for years to many hundreds of students. There was not the slightest hope of cure or improvement, so that this girl was regularly exposed in this manner merely because she was an “interesting case.” Eighteen months ago he was the unwilling witness of an even greater atrocity. A woman was dying of malignant disease of the stomach, and the physician under whose “care” she was was delivering a clinical lecture, taking the unhappy woman as his text. In the course of his remarks he mentioned various ways of ascertaining the extent of the stomach, amongst them the method of inflating it with gas, and then by percussion mapping out its boundaries. A student inquired precisely how it was done, and the physician said he would show him. The patient was thereupon given a solution of bicarbonate of soda, and this dose was immediately followed by one of tartaric acid. The effect on the poor woman was pitiful, as one can readily understand, for the stomach was instantly distended enormously, which would have been extremely painful had it been healthy; how much more so when eaten out with cancer? She was hours recovering from the effect of this unnecessary experiment, and she died the next day. Is it fair, or just, or even reasonable that, in addition to the pain and worry of her disease, a young woman should be compelled to sacrifice her modesty by stripping herself to the gaze and handling of dozens of men? No medical man would dream of treating a private patient in such an unseemly manner. Why, then, should advantage be taken of the poverty of less fortunate women ?

Of course, there is nothing new in all this. Such practices have assisted Socialists in their opposition to attempts to persuade the workers to contribute to hospital funds, or to take part in friendly society, trades union and other like parades, and street collections. Moreover, the voting of subsidies by public bodies has, until recently been strenuously resisted. We know that this attitude is unpopular, because the workers have been bamboozled into believing that the hospitals exist for their benefit, but it is none the less the correct one for the Socialist, who sees in the failure of the capitalist-class to support them, an opportunity for the people to provide, own and control such places in the interest of and for the benefit of all.

In view of recent developments, it would be too much to expect S.D.F. members and other “labour” representatives to support such a vote-spoiling, “inopportune” attitude. On the contrary, they must “use every means” to get and keep seats. We seldom hear of the anti-hospital Sunday demonstrations we knew in the old days. We do occasionally hear of so-called Socialist councillors and other elected persons appearing at dinners organised for the purpose of raising funds for hospitals and learning to use the tooth-pick with the best of them. But it is left to an S.D.F. councillor of West Ham to propose an express speed down-hill policy in this connection by placing the following resolution upon the agenda for a recent meeting of Council. “Councillor Mayday will move: 1 That the Council do approach the trustees of the West Ham hospital for the purpose of entering into an arrangement by which upon payment by the Council to the trustees of the annual sum of £1,000 the latter will, from time to time, receive into the hospital such number of sick inhabitants as may be nominated by the Council.'” As we have seen no report of its being discussed or voted upon we presume it has not been reached and stands postponed. Meanwhile the West Ham branch of The Socialist Party of Great Britain have sent a letter of protest to the Council, setting forth their reasons, and we trust their action will prevent public funds being voted to private institutions where the bodies of the working-class are utilized as experimental objects for the benefit of the rich.


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