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The Cadaver Method

November 13, 2009

from Colin Dickey
from Lapham’s Quarterly

rembrandt-the-anatomy-lecture-of-dr-nicolaes-tulp-thumb-485x363-793One of the earliest experiments of universal healthcare for the poor could be found in eighteenth-century Vienna. Founded in 1784 by Joseph II, the massive General Hospital provided free health care to thousands of the sick poor well into the nineteenth century. A sprawling complex that at its height admitted tens of thousands of patients a year, it was the largest hospital in a city that, by 1850, had surpassed Paris as the capital of clinical education. It was here that Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types, and where Ignaz Semmelweiss first proposed hand-washing as a means of stopping bacterial infections. The poor who came to its halls could be assured that they were receiving the finest medical treatment Europe had to offer. The price for this service was simple: if things didn’t turn out well and you didn’t make it, the hospital kept your body. Joseph II felt that the use of one’s body after death was a fair price for the free medical attention given in life.

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