The Bleeding Physician of Philadelphia: Libel, Defamation, and Our Founding Fathers

25 Pages Posted: 18 Jun 2010  

Andrew G. Shuman, MD

University of Michigan Hospitals - Department of Otalaryngology

Marc Edelman

City University of New York - Baruch College, Zicklin School of Business; Fordham University School of Law

Date Written: June 1, 2010

Abstract

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, L84

Suggested Citation

Shuman, MD, Andrew G. and Edelman, Marc, The Bleeding Physician of Philadelphia: Libel, Defamation, and Our Founding Fathers (June 1, 2010). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1626533 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1626533

Andrew G. Shuman, MD

University of Michigan Hospitals - Department of Otalaryngology ( email )

1500 E. Medical Center Drive
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

Marc Edelman (Contact Author)

City University of New York - Baruch College, Zicklin School of Business ( email )

One Bernard Baruch Way
Box B9-220
New York, NY 10010
United States

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

140 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
United States

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