A REPLY TO SIR WILLIAM ARBUTHNOT LANE.
THE article from the pen of Sir William Arbuthnot Lane which appeared in the December issue of “HEAL THYSELF” is of a very controversial nature and perhaps therefore, I may be permitted to set out some of the admitted facts which tend to refute a good deal of Sir Williams arguments.
Sir William, of course, is entitled to state his own experience in medical practice but he will find that the profession collectively does not share his views as there has been a spectacular change in the use of alcohol in the treatment of disease during the present century.
Information collected from hospitals in every part of the British Empire shows that in 1900 with 383,000 patients, the average cost per patient for alcohol was 10d. which in terms of brandy was equivalent to 6.8 ounces. In 1923 with 670,800 patients the average cost per patient was 8d., which in terms of brandy was equivalent to 1.3 ounces. In 1934 with 1,702,985 the cost was 3.8d., equivalent to .69 ounces of brandy per patient.
When it is remembered that there has been a considerable increase in the cost of all forms of alcoholic drinks the reduction in expenditure is much more striking than would appear at first sight.
Moreover, an increasing number of hospitals throughout the country are using no alcohol whatever in the treatment of diseases in which at one time alcohol was thought to be indispensable. At the Western Fever Hospital, London, Dr. J.D. Rolleston, who became Superintendent in 1926, found that in the year 1925 2,589 ounces of brandy had been used. in 1927 this was reduced to 25 ounces and since 1929 no alcohol whatever has been used in the hospital. The mortality rate has been reduced and the hospital enjoys an enviable reputation for its success in the treatment of fever.
The National Temperance Hospital which deals with all kinds of diseases was founded to demonstrate the fallacies regarding alcohol which existed in 1873. The late Lord Moynihan, in his broadcast appeal on behalf of this hospital two years ago, said “This Hospital has done a national work in demonstrating that the routine use of alcohol is unnecessary in the treatment of disease”.
It is, of course, true that there are many doctors who habitually describe and prescribe alcohol as a stimulant, apparently ignorant of the great volume of experimental and authoritative evidence to the contrary. Even The Times in a leading article was recently moved to say “According to all recent developments of scientific opinion it is not improbable that a belief in the simulating and supporting qualities of alcohol will eventually become as obsolete as a belief in witch- craft”.
Dr. Salter, M.P., recently said that he regarded a doctor who prescribed alcohol as a remedy for ill-health either (I)as a man who is completely out of date and out of touch with modern knowledge and research, or (2) as a man whose methods and practice are based on tradition, or (3) as a weakling who does not care or dare to offend his patients (these are mostly “fashionable” doctors), or (4) as one who consciously or unconsciously allows his personal preferences and habits to influence his professional judgment, i.e., one orders intoxicants because he likes them himself.
The position can be reasonably summed up by saying that alcohol as a drug may be of limited usefulness in a small and very restricted field, under careful medical supervision, but that as a regular medicine it is now obsolete.
With regard to the use of alcohol by the person in health there is no doubt that the great diminution in the use of intoxicants during the past quarter of a century has been accompanied by a welcome improvement in the health of the nation. Modern life needs a degree of efficiency which was not necessary in a less mechanical age.
It is significant that in tests of international physique represented by the Olympic Games, the countries like America and Finland, where total abstinence is widely practised, achieved notable superiority over the nations which still cherish the drink habit. Those who break world records in the sphere of sport to-day cannot afford to injure their bodies by even a small indulgence in alcoholic drink.
Two years ago a Manifesto was issued, signed by 1,000 doctors deploring the present campaign initiated by the Brewers to instil the beer drinking habit into young men. The Manifesto said amongst other things: “The beverage use of alcohol is not necessary to the highest exercise of individual and social life.” It was signed by such well-known medical men as Sir Robert Armstrong Jones, Sir Thomas Barlow, Sir Henry B. Brackenbury, Sir William Collins, Sir Thomas Dunhill, Sir. Wilfred Grenfell, Professor John Hay, Sir Ewen McLean, Dr. H. Crichton Miller, Sir Leonard Rogers, Sir Humphrey Rolleston and Sir William Willcox.
Sir William Arbuthnot Lane shares a common delusion that there is no drink problem in continental countries. As a matter of fact the incidence of alcoholism is much more acute in France than in this country and in his report issued two years ago, the Minister of Education for one of the wine-growing provinces said that the work of the teachers was seriously hampered owing to the fact that many of the children arrived at school in the morning in a semi-intoxicated condition as a result of having been given wine for breakfast.
In Germany the Nazi Government has done a great deal to discourage the use of alcohol, Herr Hitler himself being a total abstainer. Whilst there may be many criticisms of Nazi philosophy the desire for physical fitness which is one of the main points of its propaganda is one that can be warmly commended.
It is impossible within the short compass of an article of this kind to deal exhaustively with the question. Perhaps the case against alcohol can best be summed up in a quotation from the Journal of the American Medical Association “Alcohol is a poison inherently, absolutely, essentially ; in a drop or in a gill, in a pint or n a gallon, in all quantities and in every quantity it is a poison. Plainly the quantity cannot alter its chemical constitution”.