James Morison (physician)

James Morison (physician)

James Morison (1770 - 1840) was a British quasi-physician who sold Vegetable Universal Pills, a would-be-cure-all.

Morison founded a pseudo-academic institution, British College of Health, to promote his cures and propagate for natural or vegetable healing with its pamphlets. One of them was "Morisoniana", the collection of Morison's works that, in the first page, announced "the old medical science is completely wrong". The whole book was a long argument against "elitistic" physicians - everybody could be his own doctor. Morison claimed that his pills would "make every man his own doctor?. He claimed 300.000 cases of cure.

Morison called himself "hygeist" and "not a doctor". His main thesis was that "Blood forms the Body - Air gives it Life?" and anything more specific was superstitious nonsense propagated by medical profession. Every body part served to contribute to the whole body what was just a covering to protect the blood. His pills served to purify the body and the blood from the harmful elements to originally pure stage "as God intended". He especially harked against physician's enthusiasm for bleeding, dissection and surgery and that they concentrated on body parts, not the people (maybe preceding the idea of holistic medicine).

Patients should take as many pills as possible and the more they'd take, the sooner they got well. During one trial, a London grocer swore that he had taken 18.000 Universal Pills. Even "mothers will secure the certainty of sound and perfect children".

The pills were widely distributed in England and all over the world. List of Morison's agents worldwide in the "Morisoaiana" was six pages long and included people from "spirit doctors" to housewives. Because they could not sell unlicensed drugs, they subverted the regulations by paying a licensing fee in the form of a stamp tax. In New York, patients spent $150.000 to buy the pills. One of the reasons was probably price - poor could afford to buy lots of pills but could not afford a doctor's appointment.

Medical doctors in both sides of the Atlantic fought back the best they could. Medical journal "Lancet" published reports of deaths due to Morison's pills, often due to excessive bowel movements. Still, when authorities did act, they apprehended Morison's distributors, but did not bother him.

Morison was sued many times with mixed results. In One case, court heard a professor of chemistry who had analyzed the pills; they contained mainly purgative gamboges, cream of tartar and aloes.

Morison died 1840. His supporters continued to sell his wares for some time afterwards.

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