Friday, April 29, 2011

On Willrich, "Pox"

Back in January, Clara mentioned Michael Willrich's new book on Progressive Era efforts to address the great smallpox epidemic and the civil liberties battles that resulted (Pox: An American History (Penguin, 2011)). Here's an excerpt from a review by Scott Gottlieb for the Wall Street Journal:
In "Pox: An American History," Michael Willrich meticulously traces the story of how the smallpox vaccine was pressed into service during a major outbreak. Sometimes the shots were physically forced on people, outraging their sense of personal freedom and—when the vaccine sickened some and killed others—galvanizing suspicion of vaccination programs. The episode, Mr. Willrich says, prompted large swaths of Americans to insist that "the liberty protected by the Constitution also encompassed the right of a free people to take care of their own bodies and children according to their own medical beliefs and consciences."
Gottlieb (New York University School of Medicine; American Enterprise Institute) emphasizes "the federal role in the practice of medicine" -- specifically, the way in which the epidemic forced state and local governments to share with "the feds" their traditional power over public health issues. (Read the full review here.) But the book appears to include many other points of interest. We'll be on the look-out for reviews that pay greater attention to the legal historical contribution.

For more on Pox, check out NPR's coverage: it includes a conversation with Willrich about the current anti-vaccine controversy and an excerpt from the book.

Image credit: Willrich