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Tabes mesentercia

With regard to the value of medical opinion when not based upon admitted or incontrovertible facts, a striking instance occurred in a case (which was admirably commented on in the Daily Telegraph) where a woman was indicted for the manslaughter of a young girl by starvation. Several witnesses deposed that they were inmates of the “Home” where the child had died; that they had been kept without proper food, and had been allowed to go about in rags infested with vermin, and that they had been crucially fogged. There was the evidence of the mistress of a Board School, of an inspector of police, and of the relieving officer against the management of the Home. After this, came the scientific evidence upon which the prosecution (which was taken up by the Government) mainly relied. One of the most eminent doctors in London said that he had heard the evidence and seen the certificate that the deaths of the child and other children at the same Home arose from what is known as consumption of the bowels. The technical term was “tabes mesenterica” and it was a very unusual disease. He had never known three deaths occur from “tabes mesenterica” in one house before in three months. From his own experience he was clearly of opinion that the food supplied to those children was totally inadequate to support life, and was calculated to lead to a fatal result. (This certainly seems a little tautological but it may be scientific). He attributed the illness and death to be entirely owing to improper and insufficient food and want of warmth. In his opinion she died “of starvation”.

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