Medicine, science and a murder

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What does it mean to be a scientist? Does dedicating yourself to a specific science entail a certain way of acting? These questions may have several answers today, and the Mexico of 1898 was no exception. Scientists, at that time men under the supposed ideals of progress and reason, should be people of high standards, because they were the times of formality and scientific seriousness. But as often happens, there are exceptions that deserve to be better known.

In 1898, the newspapers of the Mexico City reported the death of a nurse named Maria Barrerawho had a loving relationship with a doctor named Federico Abrego and was pregnant by him. The relationship lasted for a while until the nurse died from a hemorrhage and her body was immediately buried.

Due to the circumstances of the death, an investigation was carried out by the police. The doctor was detained and ordered to testify. The testimonies of him were contradictory. According to his version, neither he nor she knew she was pregnant, so things continued as normal until shortly before she passed away. They were both in the house of María’s family when she began to feel discomfort for being close to giving birth, so they both went on foot to the office, which the judge questioned Abrego, for not deciding to carry out the process at home.

The doctor argued that the soldaderas could give birth while marching with the army and therefore she could also endure. Nothing could be done to save her and she died of hemorrhage. According to Abrego, María asked him not to communicate anything to her family so as not to cause embarrassment, since they were not married.

An interesting element is that, according to some newspapers, in addition to having buried her, he also changed her clothes. In the end he was found guilty of manslaughter and was sentenced to jail. His contradiction in statements, such as blaming another doctor, as well as the circumstances of the young woman’s death and medical negligence, were some of the main arguments. It is worth mentioning that a young woman named Josefina Salazar also testified against her doctor, because according to her he had abused her when she was 13 years old.

The news of a doctor committing such acts generated outrage in many social circles, especially for those elites who believed in positivism. The newspaper El Mundo ilustrado said about the case: “The arrest of Dr. Abrego is the scandal of the day, and of many days, because this matter will not face the social criteria of a defendant, but a crime, a thousand crimes, dark and until today possible and unpunished due to the audacity of their perpetrators and the victims’ inability to resist”.

It seems to me that this phrase is still valid to this day.






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