Medieval English medical practice and the law : an analysis of cases
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This thesis is an exploration of the relationship between medieval medicine and the law from the thirteenth to the early sixteenth-century. Selected records of litigation between practitioners and their patients, particularly malpractice cases, have been used to illustrate not only the interaction of medical men with the law, but also to provide information on the practice of medicine, its practitioners and those who came to it for succour. A database of forty-six selected cases underpins this study. Chapter one seeks to establish the context of the medieval medical profession. It reveals it to be a wide open marketplace in which several competitive factions operated, from the unlicensed leech to the university-educated physician; from the lowly barber to the guild-licensed surgeon. The medieval patient therefore had a wide choice of practitioners and a similarly wide range of expectancy. Chapter two examines contemporary legal treatises and compilations in order to establish the theoretical legal context to medical and surgical practice. The responsibilities and culpabilities of practitioners are examined, and their role as expert witness is discussed. Chapter three looks at the legal forums and procedures in which the selected cases were heard in practice. The procedures used, such as writs, and legal concepts, such as those of malpractice and trespass are illustrated by reference to specific cases in this study. Also discussed is private arbitration as an alternative to court litigation in the settlement of disputes between patient and practitioner. Lastly the forty-six cases in the database are examined to provide information on actual medical practice. Areas of discussion include contractual relationships between practitioners and their patients, demographic information and the nature of both disease and treatment encountered in the cases of the database. Thereby a vivid insight is provided into the interaction of the medical practitioner and the law.
Thesis, MPhil Master of Philosophy
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