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Henry Norman Bethune

Henry Norman Bethune 1890–1939

When I was a doctor, Canada did not have socialized medicine, and the Great Depression had created much poverty. The poor got sick because of how they lived, but only the wealthy could afford doctors. As a doctor who worked to save lives, I had to be concerned with the social causes of disease, the medical system, and medical treatments.

I made my name as a surgeon in Montreal, specializing in tuberculosis. Dissatisfied with existing treatments, I pioneered new surgical tools and procedures. The Bethune rib shears are still used today! While in Montreal, I also established a free medical clinic for the unemployed, formed a group that lobbied for socialized medicine, and joined the Communist Party.

When the Spanish Civil War began in 1936, I volunteered to do what I could to help defeat the Fascists. Many soldiers were dying because blood transfusions were not available on the front lines. I developed a mobile blood transfusion service that took blood to the wounded. This innovation saved many lives, and is now standard practice.

I became deeply troubled by the Japanese invasion of China in the 1930s. I left for China in 1938 and worked at the front, providing medical care and training others in first aid, sanitation, and surgery under very difficult conditions. It was difficult to get medical supplies, and I died in 1939 after developing blood poisoning from a cut received while operating without gloves.

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