Civil War Surgeon General was Court-Martialed for Ordering End to Mercury
Sometimes we must all pause and ask: Why do the pro-mercury dentists resist change so vociferously? Why do these protectors of a primitive, polluting product put quick-and-easy profits ahead of patient health, the environment, and worker safety? It’s tempting to say such resistance is unprecedented.
Last week, I toured the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Maryland. While at the museum, I bought its book about Civil War medicine: Death in the Breeze by Bonnie Brice Dorwart, M.D. Mercury’s use was so prevalent, and even then so controversial, that the author devotes two chapters just to mercury -- prescribed by physicians in that era to treat soldiers for dysentery, typhoid, malaria, pneumonia, and syphilis.
Some physicians opposed pushing mercury onto unsuspecting patients. In fact, an early hero of the mercury-free movement was none other than the Surgeon General of the United States himself, William A. Hammond. Realizing that mercury should have no role in medicine, Hammond courageously issued General Order #6 on May 4, 1863, banning its use by Army physicians. But by issuing an order to protect soldiers from dying from mercury toxicity, Hammond signed his own political death warrant. Immediately, the medical establishment started calling for his ouster. The American Medical Association assigned delegates from every state to work against Order #6. On August 18, 1864, the AMA’s smear campaign succeeded: Surgeon General Hammond was court-martialed and cashiered out.
The American Medical Association defeated Hammond, but could not defeat the truth. More dissident physicians sprung up to oppose mercury, including the renowned Boston poet-physician Oliver Wendell Holmes (the father of the famous judge). Surgeon General Hammond was ultimately vindicated. Today, the Civil War use of mercury as a tonic is ridiculed. In the prologue to Dr. Dorwart’s 2009 book, Dr. H. Ralph Schumacher Jr., Professor of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, states: “Many therapies such as purging and mercury may have hastened death.” Then he adds, prophetically: “What will our successors think of our efforts 150 years from now?”
Future generations not only will condemn the American Dental Association for implanting a neurotoxin into the human body, but no doubt they will resent cleaning up after the irresponsible dentists who polluted our planet with mercury. However, like Surgeon General Hammond, we now have the opportunity to stand up publicly against mercury abusers. Then it was the medical establishment; today it is the dental establishment.
In preparation for the hearings on dental amalgam to be held in December, FDA is accepting public comments online. Speak out for mercury-free dentistry by clicking here to submit a comment. Tell FDA about:
your injuries caused by amalgam,
your children’s exposure to mercury,
how your mercury fillings were implanted without your informed consent,
how bad dental mercury is for the environment,
how deceptive FDA’s dental amalgam website is, or
any other concerns relating to mercury fillings.
You might want to tell FDA, too, that the American Medical Association did all that it could to protect mercury in the 19th century, endangering countless lives. Now the ADA is doing all it can to protect mercury in the 21st century. Will FDA stand up to the American Dental Association like Surgeon General Hammond stood up to the American Medical Association, or will FDA continue to defend mercury implanted in children’s teeth?
-- Charlie Charles G. Brown National Counsel, Consumers for Dental Choice President, World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry 17 August 2010