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cause of certain of the most familiar types of contagious disease with the presence of minute organisms, bacteria, the absorption of which into the blood, or even in some cases into the alimentary canal, suffices to reproduce the dangerous malady. One of the most deadly scourges to our race, viz. tubercular disease, is now known to be thus propagated. Then besides anthrax or splenic fever, spores from which are notoriously brought to the surface from buried animals below, and become fatal to the herds feeding there, it is now almost certain that malarious diseases, notably Roman fever, and even tetanus, are due to bacteria which flourish in the soil itself. The poisons of scarlet fever, enteric fever (typhoid), small-pox, diphtheria, malignant cholera, are undoubtedly transmissible through earth from the buried body by more than one mode. And thus by the act of interment we literally sow broadcast through the land innumerable seeds of pestilence; germs which long retain their vitality, many of them destined at some future time to fructify in premature death and ruined health for thousands. It is vain to dream of wiping out the reproach to our civilisation which the presence and power of these diseases in our midst assuredly constitute by any precaution or treatment, while effective machinery for their reproduction is in constant daily action. Probably not the least important among the several modes by which buried infection may reappear is the ceaseless activity of the earthworm, bringing to the surface-which indeed in a measure it slowly creates—poisonous matters engendered in human remains, although covered by a considerable depth of permeable soil. The proportion of deaths due to the diseases referred to is exceedingly large. And let it never be forgotten that they form no necessary part of any heritage appertaining to the human family. All are preventible, all certainly destined to disappear at some future day, when man has thoroughly made up his mind to deal with them seriously.
Thus, in the year 1884 the total number of deaths from all causes in England and Wales was 530,828; of these the zymotic diseases : were 84,196, or about 16 per cent. In the year 1885 the total number was 522,750; of these the zymotic diseases were 68,972, or about 13:3 per cent. In both years these diseases were below the average of preceding years."
And one of the first steps, an absolutely essential step for the attainment of the inestimable result I have proposed, is the cremation of each body the life of which has been destroyed by one of these contagious maladies. I know no other means by which it can be insured.
* Zymotic diseases (from Súuwois, a ferment) are held to include small-pox, measles, scarlet fever, diphtheria, whooping-cough, typhus, enteric fever, simple fever, diarrhea and dysentery, and cholera.
• Registrar-General's Report of Births, Deaths, and Marriages in England and Wales, 47th and 48th, for the years 1884 and 1885.
The next important fact for our consideration is, that at present no adequate means are employed to insure the discovery of poison as a cause of death before burial takes place. That the prevention of an evil is better than its cure' is an old adage, full of truth in its application to most human affairs. It ought to be accepted as a principle that, for the purpose of insuring the safety of the public, it is infinitely preferable to provide a system adapted to detect an act of poisoning before burial, rather than to rely upon the slender chance that may arise hereafter. Once the victim has been consigned to the grave, small hope remains that discovery will take place. It is often stated that burial insures the conservation of evidence that poison has been given, but without large qualification the statement is far from true. Very soon after burial all traces of most poisons---certainly those which are the most potent, such as morphia, aconite, atropine, strychnine, prussic acid, &c.—are rapidly decomposed; or they may become associated with new septic poisons developed in the body itself, which complicate the steps of subsequent inquiry, and invalidate undeniable evidence which was present for some days after death, and might have been obtained while the body was above ground. There remain, then, only the metallic poisons which can be reckoned on as open to detection through exhumation, practically three in number, arsenic, antimony, and mercury. These will continue for a long period in a condition which permits them to be obtained by analysis from the tissues of the person poisoned. It is not too much to say that the chances in favour of discovering poison will be at least twenty to one if adequate inquiry be made while the body is above ground, as compared with the result of analysis made of those which have once been buried. Yet what is our position in relation to this inquiry? Does the fact just named practically rule our action in this matter? By no means. Thousands of bodies are buried yearly without medical certificate of any kind. Of course there are numerous deaths from disease in which no medical advice has been demanded, because the warning symptoms of danger have been absent or insufficient. And there are perhaps occasionally some in which the absence of the medical man has been insured in furtherance of a sinister design. The proportion of inquests to deaths is by no means inconsiderable, but it is certainly less than it ought to be. Of the 522,750 deaths of 1885, no less than 27,798, or 5.3 per cent., were certified after inquest; but no less than 18,146, or 3.5 per cent., were buried without medical certificate or any inquiry whatever! Now compared with these enormous possibilities for undiscovered crime, how excessively small is the remedy, imperfect as it is, which exhumation for medico-legal purpose offers. Comparing the number of exhumations with the number of inquests, it is probably about one of the former to 3,000 of the latter. Dr. Danford Thomas, the well-known Coroner for Central Middlesex, has been good enough to inform me that during the last seven years he has held about 10,000 inquests in that district, and only three exhumations have been ordered during the same period. This inquiry is being prosecuted further through his kindness, and the result I hope to communicate hereafter.
Whether cremation be adopted, or the practice of burial be continued, in either case it is equally desirable to make a far more searching inquiry than we do at present in all cases of death. And this inquiry should be conducted by a qualified officer appointed for the purpose. I called special attention to this fact in my paper fourteen years ago, showing that the practice in this country was then, as it still is, greatly behind that of France, Germany, and other European nations. In every case of death without exception in those countries the uncovered dead body is examined by a medical officer set apart for that duty (the médecin vérificateur), who makes a written report detailing certain facts relating to the death obtained by inquiry, besides those which result from the examination of the body, in accordance with a schedule supplied. This officer, having of course had no professional relations with the deceased, records the name and address of the doctor who has attended, as well as those of the chemist who supplied the medicines, together with the names of nurses if any were employed. He describes the hygienic condition of the house, states what surviving relatives lived there, &c. No burial can take place under any pretext whatever until this inquiry has been made and permission has been granted. In short, it is the object of the examination to leave no means untried of detecting the cause of death before the body disappears from view.
It is needless to say how greatly superior this system is to our own; and it is impossible not to add that all who are really earnest in a desire to detect the secret poisoner are bound to advocate the establishment of that or some similar method of supervision here. Otherwise it is scarcely fair, and it is certainly inconsistent, to defend the practice of earth burial, with its manifold dangers to the living, for the sole purpose of insuring the right of occasionally exhuming a body, in order to repair the lack of adequate observation at a more fitting time.
The next step in the argument will take its starting-point from the undeniable fact that a large majority of deaths taking place in our community are obviously and unquestionably natural. It is very desirable to ascertain as nearly as possible what is the proportion of these, or inversely, what is the percentage of those about which some doubt as to the cause may be entertained. I have carefully studied this question, and it is important to consider it before we come to close quarters with the objection started at the outset. I suppose no one will imagine that there is the slightest ground for doubt about the nature of the fatal attack, in other words the cause
of death, in, say, three-fourths of the cases which occur. In fact, the proportion of obviously natural causes is very much larger than that. Old
Old age and natural decay; all zymotic or contagious diseases, most of which have been enumerated; the acute and chronic diseases of the lung and other local organs, cancer, diabetes, rheumatic affections, childbirth, besides the 5 per cent. of unknown cases determined by the coroner, leave a narrow margin for doubtful examples. In acute dysentery and diarrhea, and in some affections of the brain, circumspection is necessary in relation to the possibility of poisoning; and in infantile disorders, especially among the illegitimate, observation should be alert. Regarding all sources of uncertainty I think 1 per cent, a full estimate. In other words, the present system, demanding as it does exercise of the coroner's function in 5:3 per cent. of deaths, another 1 per cent. might be found necessary after the searching inquiry of the médecin vérificateur. This is a considerable addition, because it must be recollected that the coroner's quest is chiefly needed to investigate mechanical accidents causing death, and personal violence, of which evidence is easily available. It is not altogether a secret that some medical men of large experience hold the opinion that the administration of poison causing death is not so uncommon as the infrequent discovery of the act might be held to indicate. Conviction in a court of justice following the crime is very rare. The present system of burial after certificate-and not a few, as we have seen, have no certificatethrows very little light on the class of doubtful cases. And yet we have been gravely forbidden to practise cremation, which would deprive thousands of bodies now buried of those elements which are dangerous to the living, lest perchance in a solitary case of criminal poisoning, which we have neglected through carelessness or indifference to investigate at a fitting time, the chance should be lost, if some years afterwards suspicions arise, of acquiring the often questionable evidence which exhumation might afford !
Well, unreasonable as such a course of action must appear, when seriously considered, I will grant its advocates, if there still be any, for argument's sake, that it is not wholly unjustifiable, and nevertheless I shall assert the safety and the superiority of cremation.
The advocates of cremation, as I learned with some disappointment fourteen years ago, and many a time since, have been widely misunderstood in respect of their aims, and no amount of re-statement appears to correct an impression made on the public at the outset, to the effect that we proposed, or at all events have desired, to make cremation compulsory. Let it be understood then, once for all, that we have never suggested that any man should be submitted to the process against his own will or that of his nearest friends. As to enforcing it in all cases by legal enactment, as has been imagined by some, I doubt whether the most uneasy sleepers among us have
ever dreamed of such a scheme of legislative tyranny. So far, indeed, have we been from holding such views, that I believe it has never been proposed to make the system under any circumstances universally applicable.
All we have ever asked is that cremation should be optional; that it should be recognised as legal (it is not illegal), and be performed only under certain conditions; that adequate precautions should be taken against its abuse so that the destruction of evidence against criminal poisoning should be rendered almost if not quite impossible, through the exercise of ordinary care.
I earnestly ask the great public to consider the significant fact that it is we, the advocates of cremation, who have sought to perform it under the above-mentioned specific conditions ; that we have brought Bills into the Parliaments of this country and of New South Wales to obtain these objects ;5 and that our critics and opponents have done nothing to diminish or prevent the dangers they allege to attend on cremation, and which do largely appertain to burial, while they have actually voted in majorities to prevent us from doing so. Had the practice of cremation in our own country not been conducted thus far by cautious hands, the abuse in question might have arisen. But that they have not occurred is due to us, not to our opponents.
The proposals here conceived to be necessary to insure the safety of the public, regarding equally dangers innumerable arising from the buried dead and the occasional risk of destroying evidence against crime, are as follows:
First. I desire to act on the principle that we shall reject all doubtful cases as unsuited for cremation. It will soon be seen that the limit of this class may be provided for without difficulty by way of exclusion, and that it may be rendered by proper management exceedingly small.
Secondly. My first definite proposal will be as follows; and here for the present the appeal is made not for legal provision, but to the common sense of my fellow-citizens, who cannot be less desirous than myself to guard the health of their families from disease and death, seeing that this is our common interest.
Consent to cremate the body of every member of the family who has died of small-pox, scarlet fever, or diphtheria, to begin with. General acquiescence in this reasonable proposal alone would tax somewhat severely at first the resources of cremation. Yet here is a large and most important group of cases which, in common justice to the living, ought to be destroyed with as much rapidity as possible, and about which no manner of doubt as to the cause of death can possibly be entertained. Honest, thoughtful consideration as to the mode of treating that which remains in most instances after the destructive action of such diseases on the body must diminish the desire to pre
s House of Commons, April 1884; Legislative Assembly of Sydney, August 1886.