Monday, September 16, 2013

The Media vs. Dr. Osler

Sir William Osler
A Death in Baltimore
by Robert A. Waters

On February 4, 1905, seventy-one-year-old Captain William S. Winder placed a pistol against his skull and pulled the trigger.  His body was found the following day.  An article in the New York Times reported that “among [Winder’s] papers was found a clipping of the address by Dr. William Osler of Johns Hopkins University, in which reference was made to the uselessness of men over sixty years old.”
The suicide victim had served in the Confederate army, obtaining the rank of Captain.  Although born in North Carolina, he lived most of his life in Baltimore, Maryland.  Like many who resided in the Border States, Winder’s sympathies were pro-Southern.  (One-third of Marylanders who fought in War Between the States donned Confederate uniforms.)
While the dead man lived in relative obscurity, Dr. Osler was one of the most famous and influential physicians alive.  Born in Bond Head, Ontario, in 1849, he graduated from McGill University in Montreal.  After teaching there for ten years, Osler took a job as professor of clinical medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
Later, he became physician-in-chief at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.  It was when he retired (at age 56) from that institution that he gave a speech in which he facetiously claimed that anyone over the age of sixty-seven should retire.  After retirement, the elderly should spend a year “contemplating life,” then be “chloroformed.”  The remarks, while odd, were obviously made in jest. But headlines in hundreds of newspapers across America claimed that Osler had recommended “extinguishing” the elderly.  The famous doctor spent the rest of his life denying that he was serious in his remarks.
Osler moved to England where he became Regis Professor of Medicine at Oxford University.  In 1911, he became a baronet.  He died in 1919, at age seventy.
Meanwhile, according to the Times, “Winder was a bachelor [who] led a retired and lonely life for some years.  His sight had practically failed, and recently he suffered from insomnia.”  Facing the prospect of a miserable life in an old folk’s home, the veteran decided that Dr. Osler was right.  A bullet to the brain brought his human suffering to an end.


Ferret said...

This is just heart breaking. This continues today, insinutated and implied more than actually stated. Our culture really doesn't value the elderly or younger seniors. It's all about youth and sex. I am 31 and three of my grandparents are dead, the other I have not see for twenty years. Sometimes I wish I speak with them. Life and youth were so different for them, but really, truly not so different afterall. "Youth is wasted on the young", very estute observation.

Unknown said...

I am 58 and I certainly am not ready to go. Our society certainly is sliding into a cesspoll of of youth and sex. What the "young" don't seem to realize while they are "young" is how fleeting it is.