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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Pedantic? Yes. Still, some in the media once cared.

The Caduseus should not be used to symbolize medicine.

Not being up on ancient symbols and Greek mythology, I once thought the winged staff with two intertwined serpents was nothing more than a visually balanced, slightly fancier version of a simpler symbol with a single snake wrapped in a similar fashion about a staff. Both symbols are associated with medicine and health care but one is wrong.

The symbol with two snakes on a winged rod is the Caduceus or the magic wand of the Greek god Hermes, who, according to the Toronto Police, under the Romans morphed into Mercury, the God of Commerce. The police, in explaining their logo online, make no mention of any medical connection. (Click the link and scroll to page nine.)

The simpler symbol is the staff of Asclepius, the early Greek God of Medicine. According to an Internet site English-Word Information, legend has it the physician Asclepius cured so many people that Pluto complained to Zeus that Hades was becoming under populated.

Angered at the physician tampering with life and death, Zeus struck the good doctor with a thunderbolt.

After death, Asclepius became a god. The sick and maimed visited his temples to pray and give sacrifice, trusting the physician/god would cure them. If temple records are to be believed, thousands and thousands of sick people throughout the centuries were freed from pain and restored to health. (Maybe Asclepius should be the god of the placebo.)

So how did the Caduceus become the symbol of medicine? Well, according to Dr. Lanny Close, writing for the Johns Hopkins Medicine Magazine:

"The misconception that the Caduceus is the symbol of medicine stems from the adoption of the Caduceus by a U.S. Army Medical Corps officer in 1902 as a symbol for that group. Since the Caduceus is associated with commerce, theft, deception, and death, we, in medicine, are well advised not to use it to represent our profession."

Are folks who worry about this just being pedantic? Maybe. But, a lot of folk in the medical profession get their knickers all in a knot over the use of the Caduseus. The Amercian Medical Association went so far as to drop the winged wand with two serpents from their logo almost nine decades ago.

The Royal Army Medical Corps (Britain), Royal Canadian Medical Corps and just about all medical doctors and clinics, at least, in Europe use the single snake symbol.

And how did I become aware of this controversy? Some years ago one of the American networks announced it was no longer using the intertwined snakes symbol, the Caduseus, as their on-air symbol for medicine. They said those in the know convinced them the Caduseus is tainted. It is associated with theft, deception, and death.

I'm going to leave the last word to Dr. Timothy Rodgers:

"In these days of malpractice suits, HMO’s, avaricious insurance, pharmaceutical companies, and societal values where cosmetic surgery seems to be more important than health care, the cynic might say that the Caduceus is the more representative symbol of modern medicine."

Hmmm. Maybe The London Free Press wasn't so far off after all.

Now, the use by the Toronto Police maybe another matter. I wonder if they know about the theft and deception connections?





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