Source: New York State Journal of Medicine
Source type: journal
Document type: editorial
Document title: “The Late President McKinley”
Date of publication: October 1901
Volume number: 1
Issue number: 10
|“The Late President McKinley.” New York State Journal of Medicine Oct. 1901 v1n10: pp. 217-18.|
|McKinley assassination (personal response); William McKinley (medical care: personal response); William McKinley (medical care: criticism: personal response); McKinley assassination (news coverage: personal response).|
|James A. Garfield; William McKinley.|
The Late President McKinley
It is beyond the province of the medical press
to keep its readers informed on matters of general news which the daily papers
treat so much more promptly and exhaustively. Comment on such matters in professional
journals is often injudicious, and seldom productive of any good; but it is
only right to make some passing allusion here to our recent national tragedy.
Our readers, like other good citizens, heard of the assassination of President McKinley with feelings of horror and consternation. After the first shock we felt a pardonable professional pride in the fact that this president could be treated so much more skilfully [sic] than had been possible in the case of his martyred predecessors, and that members of our profession had taken up the awful responsibility thrust upon them without any evidences of indecision or uncertainty. We read the bulletins announcing his continued improvement with perhaps less assurance than our fellow citizens not so conversant with the uncertainties of abdominal surgery, but still with optimism. We were slower than the public to credit the startling change of condition that preceded the end and to give up hope, because there had been but the slightest indications of the approach of any such calamity. And when at last it became certain that the plot of a criminal without even the excuse of insanity had been successful, and that a murder conceived in cold blood had been accomplished, our feelings were identical with those of our fellow citizens. We shared the consternation of a nation deprived without warning of its head; we shared the sympathy for the invalid suddenly deprived of her lover and protector; above all we shared the personal regret for one great as a public officer but greatest and most beloved as the noblest type of good citizenship and true manhood.
If anything, we have cause for a deeper regret than others because the incident which at first promised to unfold to a wondering world the mar-  velous advances in surgical skill since Garfield’s time has instead distinctly tended to lessen the respect of the public for our whole profession. It was not any lack of surgical skill that we have to deplore, for so far as we can see nothing was done or left undone that was not based on good judgment of all knowable conditions. It was not the issue of bulletins of too optimistic a tone, for it was a public duty at such a time to offer every possible encouragement. We give all praise to the operator who did all that human skill could do to save his distinguished patient. He would have received our felicitations had the outcome been happier as he now has our sympathy.
To what, then, is due the grave public disapproval seen in every country newspaper? Though our colleagues did not show any lack of surgical skill, they exemplified one of the great evils of divided responsibility—they talked too much. It is difficult enough under ordinary circumstances to elude the ubiquitous reporter, and the pressure for interviews must have been tremendous, since hardly any escaped; but nothing of even personal profit was to be gained by the exploitation of theories in the public press, and not content with offering incomplete individual theories many variations of opinion were published as to actual facts. So evident did this discord become that the impression prevails that Mr. McKinley’s case was not understood; that the treatment was wrong, and the result unnecessarily fatal. These conclusions are, in our opinion, without basis of fact, but nevertheless we have to add them to our professional handicap. The public has always thought that the lamented Garfield died of too many doctors, and it is no fault of our colleagues if their freedom of speech does not lead it to add a second notable instance in support of its theory.
This same tendency to talk too much has been evident far beyond the circle of the president’s advisors. We have nothing but praise for the surgeons who testify publicly to the unquestioned surgical skill of the men under fire and urge us to assume till we have evidence of the contrary that this same skill was exercised in the case of our president. But what can we say of the men who if not distinguished themselves are at least the assistants of distinguished men, who from a distance of 500 or 1,000 miles offer criticisms in the public press? We suppose they hope to extend their local reputation, but we regret the fact that in our profession more than in any other are so many men whose education has not extended to the point of differentiating fame from notoriety.