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History of Bloodletting Essay

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Hans von Gersdorff: Feldbuch der Wundarzney (Field book of surgery) (Page 16V), 1517 The above diagram is from a medicine book published in 1517 by a German surgeon Hans von Gersdorff, showing the points of bloodletting, we can see that there are nearly 50 points of bloodletting distributed in all parts of the body. The diagram also shows a dissection of a male human body with most of the organs shown, it seems that people at time or before that time already did a lot of experiments and dissections on human body trying to understand their own body and how to treat different illness by bloodletting. It can also be conclude that bloodletting is a very scientific way to treat illness at that time as it appears in a published medicine book, the diagram shows a quite accurate human dissection and there are so many points of bloodletting for treating illnesses.

Bloodletting is a medical practice of withdrawing blood from our body by bleeding, the history of bloodletting started at the ancient times and found in many countries, its idea is to remove the excessive or the bad humours in our body in order to maintain health. This idea come from the menstruation of female as people at that time though that menstruation is a process of removing bad humours. The idea of bloodletting is reinforced by the humoral theory and research of Galen. Galen states that blood is produced in the live and is consumed in body parts, blood is not circulating and so will stagnate in different body parts. And the humoral theory of Galen state that the healthiness of our body is maintained by the humoral balance. So if there is excessive humours, we should remove them in order to maintain health. If blood is the excessive humour, bloodletting should be performed. These two idea combined together and contributed to the development of bloodletting.

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There are so many points of bloodletting shown in the diagram is possibly because of people at that time though that different diseases are caused by excessive blood stagnate in different body parts, so they perform bloodletting in different body parts in order to heal different illnesses by restoring the humoral balance.

The idea of bloodletting lasts for almost 2,000 years and was disproved by William Harvey. From my point of view, William’s research disprove the theory of bloodletting in two ways. Firstly, William founds that blood is not produced in liver then used up in body parts as Galen said, but is circulating all around the body and so it will not stagnate in the body parts. Therefore bloodletting in different body part will get the same result and the theory of performing bloodletting in different body part to treat different illness is disproved.

Secondly, as blood is not produced then used up, so the production rate of blood is not as fast as Galen thought. Actually, the production rate of blood in our body is quite slow and so the amount of blood is relatively constant. As the procedure of bloodletting is to remove quite a large amount of blood, so this will weaken our body and sometimes maybe even fatal. This disprove the idea of using bloodletting to treat illness. Despite of this, the practice of bloodletting still quite common until the 1900s because of its own long history.

Nowadays, bloodletting is seldom use as a kind of scientific medical treatment already as most of the people knows about the side effects of it, but it still appears in some folk healing practice.

1. Wikipedia – Bloodletting

2. Wikipedia – Galen

3. Wikipedia – William Harvey

4. The Medieval Period’s Most Painful Medical Procedures And Instruments http://all-thats-interesting.tumblr.com/post/35561937226/the-medieval-periods-most-painful-medical-procedures

5. Top 10 Bizarre Healing Treatments

6. CCST9024 Blood, Beliefs, Biology Lecture 2 PowerPoint

7. CCST9024 Blood, Beliefs, Biology Lecture 3 PowerPoint

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