23 DECEMBER 1960, Page 4

`Pro Bono Publico'

MHE Spectator does not normally publish letters I from authors who are unwilling to put their names to them; and the fact that this week we print a couple of letters over pseudonyms calls for an explanation. There are two kinds which, we believe, merit publication, even though the authors may be unwilling or unable to sign them : where the disclosure of his name might bring harm to the writer—or to his family, as when a refugee from behind the iron curtain writes about happenings in his country of origin; or where— and this applies in the case of the letters we print this week—the writer is debarred by his profes- sional calling from sending letters to the news- papers (or at least from signing his name to them). With members of the forces the anonymity is enforced by regulation: with lawyers. by pro- fessional etiquette; with prostitutes, by a desire not to attract the attention of the law; but what- ever the reason, provided the writers' credentials can be checked, it would manifestly be unfair to exclude their letters when they discuss matters of public interest or concern.

inevitably there are border-line cases; and letters from `MD. name and address supplied.' used to be one of them. This week's happens to be a distinguished Consultant of a London hos- pital; but we have printed the letter only with reluctance, because there is no longer any reason why doctors should not feel fret to sign their communications to the lay press.

In fact, there is every reason why they should sign them. The principle of medical anonymity has been grossly abused in the press; in many Fleet Street offices the resident 'Harley Street specialist' is only a member of the reporting staff. And even where the reporter writes under his own name, the material he produces is often slanted or blown up in a way which presents a totally misleading picture of the treatment, or whatever it is he is describing. The profession, in fact, by its self-denying ordinance over 'advertising' merely contrived to bring medical journalism in the popular press into disrepute. The Spectator, therefore, will in future print letters only from those members of the profession who are pre- pared to sign their names.

On the point at issue, our correspondent may be right to say that penicillin is one of the safest drugs known; but the number of anecdotes about some of its unpleasant side-effects has been in- n- THE creasing recently, at a time when its beneficial capacity has been reduced by past misuse. And the new 'super penicillin' had hardly come on the market before voices urging caution about its prospects were being raised in the medical journals—but not in the public press, where only articles which give ecstatic puffs for new drugs appear to be acceptable.