MERCY IN CASE OF DOUBT.
THREE weeks since, at Bodmin Assizes, William Hamlyn Pascoe, a licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries of twenty-nine years' standing, and practising at Cubert in Cornwall, was tried by Mr. Justice Erle for administering a dose of savine to a young un- married female with intent to procure a felonious miscarriage. He was convicted, and sentenced to be transported for ten years. A well-written article in a professional contemporary, the Medical Gazette, has attracted attention to the ease, and set us on canvassing the justice of its result. The chief evidence against the moused was thus repeated by Mr. Justice Erle in his summing-up— "The prisoner wrote a prescription, which according to Mr. Moorman, if he was a man of competent skill, he must have known would answer no beneficial purpose, and would answer only the purpose of procuring mis- carriage Savine was formerly used in cases of suspended menstrua- tion; but no man of competent skill, according to the present education of medical men, would use it. It was popularly known, said Mr. Moorman, as the means of producing miscarriage."
We believe that the witness was wrong in point of medical science, and the judge wrong in point of judicial inference.
It is not true that the prisoner must have known that his pre- scription would answer no beneficial purpose, and would answer only the purpose of procuring miscarriage. On the contrary, the plea which he raised in defence, that he used the savine as an emmenagogue, to cure certain irregularities which he supposed to be the patient's only ailment, was perfectly valid, perfectly con- sistent with medical authority. Savine is expressly prescribed as an eminenagogue in the last edition of Hooper's Medical Diction- ary, edited in 1848 by Dr. Klein Grant; and it is there prescribed IN a larger dose than the prisoner gave it. The standard books of A. T. Thompson, Pereira, Christison, and others, on Materia Me- dici', also mention savine as an emmenagogue, and do not condemn the use of it. The fact that other and better remedies are also prescribed, ought not to deprive the prisoner of the benefit which he is entitled to, as a practitioner of thirty years' standing, of ad- hering to the fashionable remedieg of his younger days. It is very fallacious to assume, because savine is popularly known as the means of producing miscarriage, that the prisoner must have prescribed it for that purpose. If he had the compe- tent knowledge which it is assumed that he had, he would never have dreamed of using that simple even for the illegitimate purpose imputed to him : he would have known, on the one hand, that it is both unsure and unsafe—that the desired effect of it /night fail, and that collateral dangers might be feared from its use; while he would have known, on the other hand, that there are other agents both sure and safe for securing the felonious ob- ject without any collateral dangers.
. Therefore, it was not inconsistent with competent knowledge to have prescribed savine boni fide for a beneficial purpose ; and it was inconsistent with such competent knowledge to have prescribed it midi fide, for the purpose of the imputed crime. But the assumption that the prisoner had the competent know- ledge on which the felonious intention was imputed, is totally gra- tuitous, and even against some portions of the evidence.
As to modern science in materia medics, was it necessary or likely that the prisoner would get it, a village 'pothecary of-the old school, at the Lands-end in Cornwall? Metropolitan profes- sionals know well to what an extraordinary pitch provincial isola- tion insures provincial ignorance of the modern advances in know- ledge and practice : they have seen half a dozen country surgeons faint like girls in the operation theatre of a town hospital, while second-year's students looked on calmly and inquiringly; and they know of the jokes daily suggested to hospital professors by the daily recurring instance of bad surgery and ignorant practice, their antiquated provincial brethren. It seems to us rash, therefore, to reject the suggestion of the prisoner's counsel, that he was an ignorant man, who did his best among the Cornish miners, but who had probably never heard a modern lecture in his life, and had never read any modern book besides the later editions of the respectable author who expressly sanctions the remedy which he Used in this case.
As to knowledge of the young woman's state, there is absolutely no evidence in the affirmative, while in the negative there is her own testimony on oath that the prisoner never suspected her state till the child was born. Perhaps scarcely a single obstetrician in the kingdom, of large experience, has not once or twice in his life been similarly deceived and at fault. Therefore, the competent knowledge which seems absolutely ne- cessary to found the felonious charge, had not, in the highest pro- bability, any sort of existence. It is our object to urge only these particular features of the case. There were other points which harmonize with and support the belief in the prisoner's innocence,—such as the facts that his first prescriptions were admittedly suitable and proper ; that his subsequent prescriptions were, like the former, directed by him to a chemist and druggist perfectly familiar with his handwriting ; that the medicines said to be wrongful did not, after all, produce the miscarriage ; and that when the child was at last born prema-
turelLethe sexton of the parish was employed to bury it, and did his c
sopublicly that the scandal became known through that very publicity. But these facts were all of a sort that we are
quite sure so good and respected a judge as Mr. Justice Erie put plainly to the jury before verdict, an himself duly weighed when he passed sentence. The other circumstances, however, are of a nature to be elucidated by unforensio consideration and dis- cussion, and to be properly brought forward by the journalist if they have been overlooked before the formal tribunals of the country. Though we do not mention we do not overlook some slight cir- cumstances apparently more easy to be accounted for on the sup- position of the prisoner's guilt ; but these circumstances were trivial, and altogether inconclusive. Viewing the whole case, we are strongly impressed with its logi. cal fallaciousness, and we are also deeply impressed with more than moral doubt; in fact, we believe the prisoner to have been inno- cent. We therefore make it our duty to urge on the proper au- thorities, that his sentence should be brought under the recon- sideration of the Sovereign, with a view to mercy in the case of doubt, and pardon.