Richard Horton

Richard Horton edits the Lancet and is the author of Preventing Coronary Artery Disease.

On the evening of 10 March 1969, Richard Crossman, Harold Wilson’s new Secretary of State for Social Services (‘SSSS? Impossible!’ Crossman wrote in his diary), reached into one of his three ministerial red boxes to find a long report by a still rather obscure Conservative barrister. Geoffrey Howe had entered Parliament in 1964, only to lose his seat when Wilson increased Labour’s majority from four to 95 in 1966. Crossman’s predecessor, Kenneth Robinson, had appointed Howe to chair an inquiry into scandalous allegations, made in the News of thr World, of cruelty, torture and theft at Ely Hospital, a psychiatric institution near Cardiff. Howe’s final report had been submitted in September 1968, a month before Crossman took up his new portfolio. The Ministry had by then spent six months arguing that Howe’s explosive eighty thousand words should remain confidential; only a brief summary would be published. ‘Not on your life,’ Howe had said, according to Crossman’s diary. Eventually, with three drafts – complete, slightly curtailed and concise – in his red box, Crossman had two days to approve publication of the concise version.’‘

Do It and Die

Richard Horton, 20 April 1995

Evening, 10 May 1987. Thousands of American fingers flick their television remotes to Old Time Gospel Hour. The Reverend Jerry Falwell steps forward to address an adoring audience, worn Bibles in hand, blessed suppers of body and blood recently consumed. His message is a comforting one for this gathering. ‘They are scared to walk near one of their own kind right now. And what we have been unable to do with our preaching, a God who hates sin has stopped dead in its tracks by saying, “Do it and die. Do it and die.” ’ Falwell wrote later that year: ‘Aids is a lethal judgment of God on America for endorsing this vulgar, perverted and reprobate lifestyle.’ His words emerged from the sun-beat soul of the American South and did not, as you might imagine, solely reflect his desire to fill the coffers of televangelism. Two years earlier, the residents of an unprepossessing Southern town were asked their views about Aids. Half of those polled believed that the law should prevent people with HIV from working in close contact with others. Forty per cent thought that children with Aids should be excluded from schools. Intolerance is institutionalised; it is the ordinary language of Christian fundamentalists, and fundamentalists are the human infrastructure of the southern United States. Or so it seems at first blush.


Richard Horton, 8 October 1992

Imagine that you are a country doctor with an idea for an experiment. Your only difficulty is finding a suitable person to experiment on. This obstacle faces all would-be investigators in this field: willing human guinea-pigs are hard to come by. But a neighbour of yours owns his own business, and one of his employees – Phipps – has a healthy eight-year-old son called James. You ask this boy’s father if you can experiment on his son. The father agrees. After all, you are a respected figure.’

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