Contracting A Cure: Patients, Healers, And The Law In Early Modern Bologna

Brand: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Contracting A Cure: Patients, Healers, And The Law In Early Modern Bologna

  • Publish Date: 1998-09-17
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Author: Professor Gianna Pomata
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In Contracting a Cure, Gianna Pomata tells the hitherto unknown story of a fundamental shift in the relationship between healers and patients in the early modern Europe. Using a wide array of sources -- including the rich archives of Bologna's College of Medicine and legal records from several European countries -- Pomata explores the tradition of the agreement for a cure whereby the practitioner was contractually bound to heal the sick person within a specified period and for a stipulated sum. If the patient was not cured, he or she had a legal right to reclaim from the practitioner any money advanced for the cure. The author argues that such contracts implied a horizontal model of healing that gave considerable power to patients and that, in consequence, was a serious hindrance to the growing power of the medical profession. The book shows how the agreement for a cure disappeared by the end of the early modern period precisely because of the determined opposition of physicians and jurists, who realized that payment by results was incompatible with the professionalization of medicine.

More than a simple history of professionalization, however, Contracting a Cure recreates the vanished world of meanings that patients and healers gave to their encounters in hte past and recaptures the usually neglected voices of ordinary patients. With Contracting a Cure, Gianna Pomata brings us a compelling account of the erosion of patients' rights that was a basic precondition for the dominance of doctors that characterizes present-day medicine. In recountingthe history of the agreement for a cure she reveals a notion of justice profoundly different from the one that regulates medical practice today. The history of the cure agreement, she concludes, is but a fragment in a wider history of the notions of justice we have lost.

Healers are not the main characters of this book, just as they were not the real protagonists in the judicial records of the Protomedicato. Another presence dominated these court proceedings -- a presence that I did not expect to find, at least not so close by: that of the patients. In trial after trial, the sick speak at length in the records of the Protomedicato. They recount their experiences of illness, their attempts to understand it and fight it and, to use their own words, their hopes of being 'freed' from it. Clearly and in great detail -- with almost legal precision -- they describe their involvement with different kinds of practitioners. The figure of the healer is vividly remembered, scrutinized by attentive eyes that carefully noted and weighed every detail of treatment. Above all, each healer is evaluated not only in terms of the effectiveness of treatment but also in terms of a specific -- again, I would say quasi-legal -- notion of what constitutes a fair transaction between patient and healer. -- from the Introduction

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