There was little progress in medicine in the Middle Ages. How far do you agree? (16 marks)
- work of barber surgeons
- bloodletting Purging
I agree that there was little progress in the Middle Ages. During this time period, the church had a massive influence over people so there wasn’t a lot of new ideas being made in this time. People had a very limited knowledge of human anatomy and people’s unwilling attitudes to change made it very difficult for new emerging ideas and progress.
In the Middle Ages, Galen held undisputed authority over medicine, his theories becoming known and practiced worldwide. The church who was the most influential organisation approved and even promoted Galen’s ideas which led to his Theories becoming apart of common knowledge in medicine. Even though Galen did help progress in medicine in some ways such as adding knowledge to infectious disease and pharmacology, he made a detrimental impact to medicine in other ways which ultimately hindered progress in an extreme way. Theories of his including, that blood carried the life spirit, the liver produced blood and that the human jaw bone was made up two pieces as well as many more delayed the understanding of the human body. It led to lots of people dying as these ideas were clearly incorrect and didn’t help in any way. However these ideas were welcomed and were widely used which discouraged further research in physiology. Even if Galen had good intentions, his misinformation as well as the church’s encouragement completely stopped the flow of progress for a long time and ended up hurting and killing lots of patients.
The most common form of treatment in medieval medicine was phlebotomy otherwise known as bloodletting. This form of treatment was a common practise for a long time which slowed down progress as people were reluctant to try any new treatments that may have arose during these times. People stuck with what they knew and so phlebotomy was used for hundreds of years. Bloodletting consisted of a barber surgeon cutting a vein in someone’s arm or using leeches to suck their blood or to scratch their skin and use hot cups to suck the blood out. People believed that diseases were in blood and if they suck all the infected blood out then they would be cured and left with the good blood. This wasn’t a good idea however and yet again this was due to misinformation and peoples lack of understanding because of the churches power. This often led to people dying as too much blood was taken out of them, or it led to infections due to the lack of hygiene and care which a lot of the time would end up killing the patient. Even with the amount of deaths this form of treatment caused, people still believed it worked and it was still widely accepted as an actual form of treatment well into the renaissance period clearly showing little progress.
Another reason why there was such little progress was people’s attitudes to new ideas. People didn’t really accept anything as truth unless it was approved by the church which led to little progress as the church didn’t accept many ideas and the ones it did has to fit into the teachings of the bible so therefore usually were ineffective. However after the Black Death things did start to change. It became clear to people after the Black Death in 1348 that people died or survived from the plague for no reason at all. Cures either worked or they didn’t - nothing was consistent. This led to physicians to start questioning their practises. Many leading medical theoreticians died during the plague which opened a new path for new ideas. Also people started to turn to practical surgeons. As surgery rose in popularity, more research was done of the human body and more people wanted to learn about anatomy. This resulted in a better understanding. Additionally, dissections which wasn’t allowed on humans due to the church’s belief that you body has to be intact to go to heaven were pursued more often and gained support form public authorities.
Ultimately, I agree with the statement. Whilst some progress was made in understanding the human body, the church’s power and influence over people made it difficult for any breakthroughs to occur. The theories which were used were mostly incorrect and without the ability and knowledge to prove that these theories were ineffective, nothing could be done and progress was difficult to make. People were also very untrusting and didn’t want to be experimented on so physicians stuck to what they had been taught even if they thought the theories and practises were incorrect.