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Report Of A General Plan For The Promotion Of Public And Personal Health

Creator: Lemuel Shattuck (author)
Date: 1850
Publisher: Dutton and Wentworth, Boston
Source: Boston Public Library

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The Commissioners, appointed on the third day of July last "to prepare and report, to the next General Court, a plan for a Sanitary Survey of the State, embracing a statement of such facts and suggestions as they may think proper to illustrate the subject," have considered the matters referred to them, as far as the limited time at their command, and other circumstances, since their appointment, would permit, and submit their Report.


As the object of our commission is comparatively new, and may not be clearly understood by every person, we will state what we understand to be its intention. By a Sanitary Survey of the State is meant, an examination or survey of the different parts of the Commonwealth, -- its counties, its towns, and its localities, -- to ascertain the causes which favorably or unfavorably affect the health of its inhabitants. The word sanitary means relating to health. (1) When we speak of the sanitary condition of a town, we include a description of those circumstances which relate to, or have an effect upon, the health of its inhabitants. When applied to the inhabitants of a town or district, in their social capacity, it relates to public health; when to individuals, it relates to personal or private health.

(1) This word is derived from the Latin sanitas, meaning " soundness of body, health." It is sometimes written, erroneously, as we think, sanatory, sanotary, and sanitory. The most correct authors, however, now write, sanitary. Hygiene (from a Greek word, derived from Hygeia, the goddess of health, meaning to be well,) is defined " health, the preservation of health, that part of medicine which regards the preservation of health." Hygiean and hygienic have the same meaning as sanitary. These words are sometimes used as technical terms, especially by medical men; but we dislike, and see no good reason for substituting them for the more simple, proper, and comprehensive English words, health and sanitary, which are generally understood. We would divest our subject of all mystery and professional technicalities; and as it concerns every body, we would adapt it to universal comprehension, and universal application.


The condition of perfect public health requires such laws and regulations, as will secure to man associated in society, the same sanitary enjoyments that he would have as an isolated individual; and as will protect him from injury from any influences connected with his locality, his dwelling-house, his occupation, or those of his associates or neighbors, or from any other social causes. It is under the control of public authority, and public administration; and life and health may be saved or lost, and they are actually saved or lost, as this authority is wisely or unwisely exercised.


The condition of perfect personal health requires the perfect formation of all the organs of the body, and the perfect performance of each of their functions, in harmony with all the others. Such a condition gives to its possessor, strength, energy, power, buoyancy of spirit, happiness. Disease may be an imperfection in some organ, or a derangement or improper action in some function, or both: and it may exist, and does actually exist, in all communities, in an infinite number of degrees, from the slightest deviation from a standard of perfect health, through all the varieties of sickness, to the lowest standard of vitality, just as the body is about to perform its last respiration. Such a condition gives to its possessor, weakness, lassitude, inability, depression, pain, misery, death. And one or the other of these conditions may be chosen, and is actually chosen, to a greater or less extent, by almost every human being.


We believe that the conditions of perfect health, either public or personal, are seldom or never attained, though attainable; -- that the average length of human life may be very much extended, and its physical power greatly augmented; -- that in every year, within this Commonwealth, thousands of lives are lost which might have been saved; -- that tens of thousands of cases of sickness occur, which might have been prevented; -- that a vast amount of unnecessarily impaired health, and physical debility exists among those not actually confined by sickness; -- that these preventable evils require an enormous expenditure and loss of money, and impose upon the people unnumbered and immeasurable calamities, pecuniary, social, physical, mental, and moral, which might be avoided; -- that means exist, within our reach, for their mitigation or removal; -- and that measures for prevention will effect infinitely more, than remedies for the cure of disease.


Some of the reasons for this belief will be given in the pages of this report. If it shall appear that it is well founded, -- if, indeed, there are facts to support, and legitimate arguments to sustain it, -- what subject, it may be asked, can come up for consideration, that shall transcend it in importance? We look upon things as valuable, that are worthless without life, and that cannot be enjoyed without health. How much more valuable, then, the means to possess and to enjoy both life and health, which alone give value to other objects! When compared together, all other matters this side the grave dwindle into insignificance.

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