"Dare Doctor's Think?"  Verbatim Report of the Great Meeting held at Queen's Hall, London, Fri, Feb 6, 1925.  In connection with the Rex versus Hadwen manslaughter charge


Dr. HADWEN, on rising to speak, received a great ovation, which lasted some moments.

He said:

Mr. Chairman and friends—I cannot thank you in words for such a reception as you have given me. In fact, your sympathy throughout the whole of my trial has been such as has supported me when everything else seemed dead against me. I must also thank the vast numbers who wrote me kind letters of sympathy and congratulation, telegrams and cablegrams galore. I tried again and again to reply to them, but the thousands that lay before me took all the heart out of me. I hope a great many here to-night who have written or wired me will accept my very deepest thanks for all their kindness throughout the whole of that period.

I have passed through some strange experiences in the course of a long and chequered life, but I never expected to reach a stage in my career when I should stand as a criminal at the bar of an English Court of Justice to answer the charge of having "feloniously killed and slain" an innocent little patient of 10 years old. (Shame.)

This grave charge rested primarily upon the fact that I had neglected to look for a particular kind of "microscopic bug" (as American scientists call it) which was subsequently found in a swab taken from the child’s throat; and secondly, because I had declined to inject into my little patient’s body a certain nostrum by the name of antitoxin, which is supposed to scotch the microscopic bug when it has been discovered. (Laughter.)

I viewed this attack upon my treatment of my patient as a gross interference with medical right and liberty (applause), and, as a fully qualified medical man, possessing qualifications and experience at least equal to those possessed by any of the men who were responsible for this persecution, I repudiated this onslaught upon my intelligence and reputation and declined to submit to such unwarrantable dictation. (Hear, hear.)

The whole thing resolved itself into the question as to whether a medical man of the 20th century had a right to think for himself.

The slogan "Dare Doctors Think," which has been displayed upon the London hoardings for the last two or three weeks was not, however, chosen by me. It was chosen by those who, rightly or wrongly, had come to the conclusion that the position in which I found myself recently, namely, that of a prisoner in the dock, with a charge of manslaughter hanging over my head, was not because of anything I had done or of anything I had not done, but was because of the opinions I hold and which I have never hesitated to openly express. (Loud applause.)

It is quite certain that there would have been no trial inasmuch as there would have been no inquest, had I not been so unfortunate as to estrange a fellow practitioner by the exposure I made of the ridiculous smallpox scare in Gloucester the year before. If I had refused to think for myself, but had, instead, bowed down to the Ministry of Health and had joined in the scaremongering along with 27 other doctors who obliged the Whitehall emissaries by signing a manifesto to the effect that there was smallpox in Gloucester and the only remedy was vaccination, it is quite certain that the death of little Nellie Burnham would have passed unnoticed. I had dared to think and act for myself and that was the brunt of my offence. (Applause.)

This was not the first time I have had to take my stand in the cause of personal liberty. Nor was it the first time that I had been accused of wilfully making a false diagnosis of the illness of a patient to suit my views, but on the first occasion when that happened I was able to clear my character by bringing an action for libel against my medical traducer. On this occasion I was not given the opportunity. I was charged with manslaughter instead. Nearly half a century ago, I was hauled again and again before the Magisterial Bench because I declined to allow my children ‘s pure blood to be polluted with the loathsome excretion from the sores of a diseased beast. (Cheers.) At that time men were led handcuffed to prison through the public streets, their goods were sold in the public market place to pay the fines inflicted upon them; mothers who had lost their husbands were sent to prison for a month at a time because they dared to protect their children from this wholesale blood-poisonmg: conscience was treated with derision, and no punishment was thought too severe to inflict upon respectable, home loving, thinking men and women— aye, the very salt of the community—by the authorities of the day, who bowed, as they still do, to the medical hierarchy which held sway over the bodies of the people.

We broke down that tyranny. (Applause.) We secured the addition of the Conscientious Objectors’ Clause to the Vaccination Acts—that was a compromise-—we shall not rest until that indignity to liberty-loving parents is swept away and vaccinated and unvaccinated stand equal before the law. (Renewed applause.) Again and again it has been sought by the bureaucrats of Whitehall and their obsequious public officials throughout the country to reinstate the hydraheaded monster of vaccination in its old place, but the attempt has failed, and now, after my 50 years of struggle against these iniquities and superstitions, I have been forced to appear before an antiquated Coroner’s Court, presided over by a young and very cocksure Coroner; then before a Bench of my fellow Magistrates, and, after being informed by a Grand Jury that a true bill of manslaughter was found against me, I had to take my place in the dock as a common felon whilst the best Counsel of the day spent three days in debating whether I ought or ought not to be sent to gaol for exercising a medical man‘s right to do the best he could for his patient in accordance with his knowledge and experience. (Shame.)


The case of the opposition was that my diagnosis and treatment were all wrong. But it is clear that if they were right there must have been the most remarkable combination of circumstances arranged by a special Providence to give them a case against me.

It will be remembered that the doctor who was called in when the child was dying—the very doctor who had used such strong and vulgar language concerning my views on the alleged smallpox epidemic—declared that he found diphtheritic membrane—which is the characteristic sign of diphtheria—stretching right across the throat. It certainly was not there when I examined the throat in the morning, nor was it there when the post-mortem examination took place two days later. But had it been there when this doctor professed to see it, it must have been there during no less than 11 days. This must have been a very special arrangement by a very special Providence acting on behalf of my enemies, for I have never seen, and I doubt if any of the many medical men on this platform to-night have ever seen, a membrane persist for more than six or seven days at the very outside. As a rule, in four days, it has come away bit by bit and all but disappeared.

To say the least of it, it was a rarity of a very exceptional type. (Laughter.)

Next we come to the pneumonia which my little patient had contracted by going downstairs in her bare feet and nightdress and walking over a tiled passage on a line with the street door into the scullery where she stood on a floor of blue bricks and drew some cold water from the tap to assuage her thirst. The doctor who conducted the post-mortem examination admitted that he found lobar pneumonia, and declared that it was the kind of pneumonia which follows a chill, of ‘‘not more than two or three days duration," which coincided with the date when she had so exposed herself, and that it was not the kind which arises out of diphtheria. But after he had come in contact with tile Home Office Medical Adviser, he weakened upon the point and subsequently discovered that it could in very rare exceptions follow diphtheria—a rarity of less than one per cent., Sir William Willcox subsequently stated. This was an additional curiosity——a second rarity of a very extraordinary type. (Laughter.) But Sir William Wilicox, the special medical adviser of the Home Office, who was out to give me no quarter upon any point or under any circumstances, denied flatly that it was lobar pneumonia—although he had never seen the child, dead or alive. He declared it was lobular pneumonia—the kind which arises directly from diphtheria, (for he had to push the diptheria theory for all it was worth, in order to condemn me for neither taking a swab nor giving antitoxin), but instead of the consolidation being in patches as lobular pneumonia should be, he declared it had taken such a severe form that the patches had all run together and the lung had become solid as in the lobar variety. That was a remarkable explanation from a man who had never set eyes on it. "But," said he, "I admit it is very rare." (Laughter.)


This was the third startling exception and a rarity such as I have never seen, nor do I believe that any experienced medical man in this hall to-night has ever witnessed it.

But the curious fact existed that the pneumonia was confined to only one lung—which is the characteristic of lobar pneumonia—-and this undoubtedly considerably nonplussed Sir William Willcox, for in lobular pneumonia both lungs are invariably affected. Sir William Willcox, however, was quite ready even for this emergency. In very, very rare cases, said he, lobular pneumonia, might affect only one lung; even though the attack were as severe as he described, which to any medical man of practical experience would be deemed an utter impossibility. (hear, hear.)

Did ever you hear, in all the experience of the whole medical profession since the days of Hippocrates, such a marvellous combination of exceptions and rarities gathered together in one little body, all so carefully arranged by Providence for the special purpose of convicting a heterodox medical practitioner of manslaughter? (Laughter.)

It was solely upon this marvellous combination of the greatest rarities and curiosities that the medical witnesses depended for their case against me.

Now this precious membrane, so facetiously referred to by Lt.-Col. Donegan, played the most important part in the trial. My chief opponent declared the mouth was "full of it" when he first examined the throat by the light of an electric lamp about an hour before the little one died, and the question of questions was: what had become of it? My contention was that all he saw was some clotted milk which he had mistaken for membrane, as many a medical man had done before him.


Still, if there, what had become of it? For the little one was surrounded to the time of its death by friends who declared at the inquest that the child had neither vomited nor choked; nor was it swallowed, for no membrane was found in the stomach.

Mrs. Burnham, the mother, was greatly exercised upon this point, and so were the medical witnesses. And realising, apparently, after the first day of the Coroner’s inquest, how necessary it was that that membrane should he discovered, she announced a month later that when she was washing the daughter’s clothing after the death, she found it lying among the soap-suds at the bottom of the bath! (Laughter.) It was circular in shape, she averred, all in one solid piece of about three inches in diameter and half-an-inch thick. (Renewed laughter.) And as the prosecution were most serious upon this point, I presume it was believed by them and their medical supporters with the same touching degree of faith that they placed in antitoxin. (Laughter).

Of all the combined rarities this, perhaps, was the most remarkable of all. It is a great pity that scientific experimentation was not instituted to show its possibility. Sir William Willcox has told us that he dropped poison into a cat’s eye in order to prove something in the Crippen case, and we have lately seen in America that in order to ascertain whether a woman had deliberately got into a furnace feet first in order to commit suicide, two live guinea-pigs were thrown by a vivisector into a furnace whilst legal gentlemen stood outside with watches in their hands calmly calculating how long it took before the poor little frantic, screaming, roasting creatures were slowly done to death. It ought not to have been beyond the capability of an expert vivisector like Sir William Willcox to have devised some great scientific experiment by which to check this comical story of membrane in the bath. (Hear, hear.)

But the doctor who conducted the post-mortem examination had his own theory about that precious membrane. He found it—a piece three inches by one—on the top of the lung! so that, putting the two samples together, there must have been a rare collection of it in that small throat, such as defied the accounts of all time. The quantity was more suited to the throat of an elephant. (Laughter.) He thought it must have slipped down from the throat just before the child died. But this again would have to be a rarity such as is unheard of in medical history. Who ever heard of a diphtheritic membrane either vomited in one huge piece or slipping down the windpipe like a bear down a greasy pole?

This wonderful membrane was described by the mother on different occasions as looking like "a piece of tissue paper"; like "a yellow sponge," and like "a piece of India-rubber about half-an-inch thick," and all the medical witnesses for the prosecution listened open-mouthed without a smile upon their faces! (Laughter.)

You will thus see that the special Providence of the prosecution had arranged for them the most marvellous combination of rarities in one little body that had ever entered into the mind of man to conceive. The jury, however, who, fortunately, were not men and women of science, arrived at the commonsense conclusion that although mine was only one solitary voice against 12, my diagnosis of a simple sore throat, followed by pneumonia contracted through a chill, was much more reasonable than an aggregation of miracles and impossibilities. (Applause.)

I have been told that medical men are amazed at the boldness with which I enunciated my views at tile trial - It was evident that the Judge himself was greatly astonished at my not following the fads of the hour. He looked upon me as very old-fashioned and asked me if I were not prepared to progress with the times. (Laughter.) I told him I was, but that I looked upon Pasteurism and all its superstitions as a retrograde movement—it was like the go-aheadism of the lobster, a progression backwards. (Laughter and loud applause.) It is the old-fashioned medical man who believes in Jenner and vaccination and the outcome of all the legendary nonsense represented by vaccines and serums and inoculations of every description. (Hear, hear.) I once believed in Jenner; I once believed in Pasteur. I believed in vaccination. I believed in vivisection. But I changed my views as the result of hard thinking. (hear, hear.) I belong to the new fashion and not to the old, antiquated fashion of my medical opponents. (Laughter.)

Why is it that medical men for the most part follow the fashion of the day? Is it that they dare not think?

Are they like Sidney Smith ‘s old lady who said she never read the other side of a subject in case she might be prejudiced? I know one of the most eminent medical men of the present day, perhaps the most eminent medical man in his particular line, who, after he became converted to anti-vaccination, was unable to fill a lecture hall. -Students were not encouraged to go and hear him. A man is eminent as long as he is orthodox. When he begins to think for himself he becomes a crank. (hear, hear, and laughter.) The only way to remedy this state of things is-to have more cranks, so that the man who is boycotted and persecuted shall not have to plough a lonely furrow. (Applause.)

It might be supposed that the very unscientific nature of modern medical treatment would have been sufficient to open the eyes of tile understanding to its folly.

First look at the method. Today, the whole scheme is inoculation for everything. I say that that in itself is unscientific. Nature has given us a covering of skin for the protection of the body, whose organs are vested with the power of excretion only. The skin as a whole is the largest excretory organ of the body, in which are situated millions of excretory glands for the purpose of carrying off the waste material of the system: the thought of its being a receptive organ is opposed entirely to the character of its structure. The modern system does violence to Nature ‘s law and teaching; it ignores the only aperture which Nature has provided for the entrance of solids or liquids into the system; it ignores the only numerous and complicated workshops ranged in association with the alimentary canal, placed there to prepare everything that enters by the mouth for assimilation and absorption, and deliberately punctures this protecting organ and forces drugs—many of them of the most filthy description—directly into the life blood, the results of which cannot possibly be gauged. Frequently, it ends in sudden death. Even the injection of plain water by this unscientific method has proved fatal In its very inception the system of inoculation by the skin is unscientific and false. (Cheers.) If medical men would only think for five minutes as to this method of inoculation, the whole system would be condemned and ended. (Hear, hear.)

Then as to what is injected: Perhaps one of the most amusing episodes in the whole trial was when the Judge asked Sir William Willcox: "Tell me, what is antitoxin?" The look of surprise on his Lordship’s face was a study as Sir William Willcox unfolded the weird romance. "It is made," he said, "by inoculating a horse." His Lordship put down his pen and turned full round to look into the face of the doughty knight, and repeated in astonishment and almost awe, "Into a horse!" (Laughter.) "Yes, my lord," proceeded Sir William jauntily, "by inoculating a horse with the poison of diphtheria; and by so doing the horse develops protection, and after the horse has been protected by several doses of the poison, the horse’s blood is taken." Again his Lordship stopped writing and turned found and seemed to mutter "horse’s blood!" (Laughter.) But Sir William unconcernedly proceeded, "and the serum—a straw-coloured, clear liquid, separates, and it is that serum which is the antitoxin, and it is that which is injected into the patient suffering from diphtheria." The judge looked from counsel to counsel in almost bewilderment! (Laughter.) He must have fancied himself back in Shakespeare’s day, looking in wonderment at the witches’ cauldron. (Renewed laughter.) As I described it to his Lordship afterwards, it is "poisoned horse blood"—poisoned by the injection of so-called diphtheria germs.

The medical man does not think—he dare not—or he would see at a glance the superstition wrapped up in all this unscientific absurdity. (Cheers.)


It is the great commercial manufacturing firms who are providing the brains for the medical man of to-day. (Applause and laughter.) We are deluged with circulars of ready-made medicines for every ailment under the sun. There never was a day when a medical man had less need for the use of his brains than he has at the present time. The commercial firms do all the thinking for him. (Hear, hear.) With a pocket syringe and a case of concentrated tabloids he can go forth a veritable medical Don Quixote to do battle with every imaginary foe. (Laughter.)

I said "imaginary," for what are the foes to-day? In the old days medical men fought against conditions of disease, to-day the fight is against germs—" a germ is a disease and a disease is a germ." What was all the fight at my trial about? As to whether my little patient had diphtheria. She never had a solitary sign of diphtheria from first to last, but they found the germ—and that was sufficient to charge a man with manslaughter although this germ can be found in healthy throats, in every kind of sore throat and in lifeless objects.

The modern germ theory of disease, upon which the charge against me was based, was formulated by M. Pasteur, a French chemist. It was an evolution of the folklore of the Gloucestershire dairy-maids which was popularized by Edward Jenner. This in turn was the outcome of the weird practice of inoculation common among Turkish peasants a couple of centuries ago—a practice which had itself been derived from a Hindu smallpox superstition which goes back to the misty era of past ages when invisible devils and hobgoblins and wrathful gods and goddesses or witches and the "evil eye" were supposed to be the originators of every human disease. The germ theory is the most old-fashioned tradition of the heathen world. (applause and laughter.)

This craze for finding the germ origin of every disease is well illustrated in the case of swine fever. Its origin has been attributed to no less than 15 germs in succession, every one of them proved scientifically to be the real, genuine thing, and now science has reached the conclusion that none of these alleged germs is genuine, but that the real one must be a filter-passer, which the most powerful microscope in the world cannot discover, and therefore, one which nobody has ever seen or is ever likely to see. (Laughter.) Science declines to consider the common-sense fact that with wholesome pigstyes and a sanitary environment swine fever cannot get a look in. (Applause.)


This is known as the anti-vivisectionist point of view. All these inoculation treatments are based upon the most cruel experiments on animals, and necessitate whole menageries of animals kept for the purpose of testing them. We object to the cruelty that is involved, but we can also prove that out of it comes no good to mankind, but harm. Anti-vivisection is not only love for animals— it is a sane and rational system, a belief in all that is good in medicine and surgery but a disbelief in modern fads which arise in the vivisection laboratory and do not fit the facts observed at the bedside of human patients. (Hear, hear.)

This is the anti-vivisection that is growing so rapidly that it has inspired fear among our medical rulers, so that at a recent Congress in Ottawa, British and Canadian medical men were urged to combine to "fight anti-vivisection." They began by fighting me and they were beaten. (Loud cheers.) They are now after a parent in Canada who would not allow antitoxin to be used on his child, because he knew of several deaths that had been caused by it, and I understand he is charged with manslaughter; and it is a remarkable coincidence that a town in Alaska which nobody can get at except by dog sledges, and from which any scare can therefore be started with absolute impunity, is said to be in danger of extinction from diphtheria----an unheard of thing!—and the solitary medical man there, instead of thinking, and treating his patients naturally, is frantically calling for antitoxin by aeroplane! (Laughter.) I don‘t believe a word of it. I have travelled across America from the Atlantic to the Pacific twice over, and I know how largely the American Press is in the hands of the serum manufacturers. It is only a newspaper stunt.


The medical profession during my trial was divided into two camps. The one desired me to be convicted because I was a nuisance, and the other was terrified lest I should be convicted, for they realised that my conviction would mean an end to medical liberty. When the verdict of the jury was known, the majority rejoiced; but the minority held up its hands in pious horror, and cried, "Good heavens! why, the verdict means that any doctor will he able to do as he likes!" (Laughter.) The only other part of the world where I found that sentiment expressed was in an editorial article on my trial published by an advanced editor in a Chinese newspaper. (Renewed laughter.)

Sir William Willcox actually went so far as to declare that a man who doesn’t believe in a certain treatment ought to give his patients the chance of it by recommending them to somebody more orthodox than himself.

Have you hear such sublime logic? and to emanate too from the lips of the medical adviser to the Home Office! a man is expected to do despite to dictates of his own conscience in order to comply with time current fashion of the time.

But my opponents do not fight fair; they don‘t play the game. Right the way through I have had to contend with every form of misrepresentation by unscrupulous opponents. Most of you have no doubt seen that since the trial I have been obliged to compel one medical man to publish a public apology for declaring that I had been surreptitiously vaccinated by another medical man during the smallpox scare. It took me years to run that Widely circulated libel to earth. The stupidity of the libel is apparent, for had I wished to protect myself in this silly manner I should hardly go to an enemy to do it for me. I should have vaccinated myself. (Laughter and cheers.) Another medical man remarked to a medical friend who is on this platform to-night: "Of course, it is Hadwen’s living"; I had an anonymous postcard some three or- four weeks ago, in which a medical man wrote, "You old humbug, you know you get fifteen hundred a year from the Anti-vaccination League for what you do." Fancy the poor Anti-vaccination League offering me fifteen hundred a year! (Laughter.) Let me at once say, that it has always been the proudest boast of my life that I have fought my battles without ever having put a single halfpenny of pay or reward of any kind into my pocket. (Loud applause.) The Societies’I work for are rich in loyalty, sterling in their zeal and earnestness, proud in their ideals, but poor in their funds. But even were they wealthy I should still feel it the greatest honour to say with the Apostle Paul: "These hands have ministered unto my necessities and I would not be beholden unto any of you." (Renewed applause.)

When I went into this recent light for the maintenance of personal and medical liberty to maintain time right to think and act for myself, I knew that it meant months of anxiety and strain and a cost of some thousands of pounds, which I should probably have to bear alone.

Your sympathy and loyalty helped me in the strain, your marvellous liberality freed me entirely of the burden of cost. I am still your unpaid servant, and the memory of your love will be my reward for all that I may yet hope to do in the field that lies before me. (Continued applause.)

Our battle against wrong, our struggle for liberty both for ourselves and others is a battle of sacrifice and unselfishness against the most selfish of creeds in Christendom. Our claim is that right is greater than might; that time work of evil cannot be the foundation of good; that the defenceless and the weak must not be exploited by the strong, and even though we may be few against the many, nevertheless, as James Russell Lowell wrote :—

"They are slaves who will not choose

Hatred, scoffing and abuse,

Rather than in silence shrink

From the truth they needs must think.

They are slaves who dare not be

In the right with two or three."

As the speaker resumed his seat there was prolonged applause, the audience rising and giving loud cheers, followed by the singing of "For he ‘s a jolly good fellow" and further cheers. The Chairman thanked the several speakers and Dr. Gertrude Best forher beautiful rendering on the organ, and the meeting closed.