The Bleeding Physician of Philadelphia: Libel, Defamation, and Our Founding Fathers
Andrew G. Shuman, MD
University of Michigan Hospitals - Department of Otalaryngology
Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College, City University of New York; Fordham University School of Law
June 1, 2010
Dr. Benjamin Rush filed one of the first professional libel lawsuits in the United States, incited by the writings of William Cobbett, a British journalist, concerning his treatment of yellow fever during the 1793 Philadelphia epidemic. The historical setting is described and the lawsuit dissected, with particular attention to the applicability of the tenets of their debate and its relevance to professional medical libel. Although Dr. Rush won his lawsuit based on the medical dogma, legal principles and political climate of his time, a similar lawsuit today would very likely fail, as recent courts have recognized the media’s right to far broader First Amendment protections against libel suits brought by public figures such as world-famous physicians.
Keywords: libel, defamation, medical, medical libel, medical defamation, professional libel, legal history, torts, First Amendment, journalism, media, medicine
JEL Classification: I00, I10, I12, I18, K13, K19, K32, K41, K42, L84working papers series
Date posted: June 18, 2010
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