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The 18th-Century Baron Who Lent His Name to Munchausen Syndrome

Still Waters

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In 1951, London physician Richard Asher wrote a journal article about “a common syndrome which most doctors have seen, but about which little has been written.” He described a pattern of seemingly sick patients with dramatic but plausible medical histories, who made countless visits to doctors and hospitals, quarreled with medical professionals, and discharged themselves against advice.

In short, these individuals suffered from what’s known today as Munchausen syndrome, a psychological condition in which a patient pretends that they or someone else, often a child, are seriously ill. Had the disorder’s founder embraced medical eponyms as Alois Alzheimer or Burrill Bernard Crohn did, it might have been called “Asher’s disease.” But it isn’t, because Asher wasn’t keen to attach his good name to a pseudodisease defined by the lies of people he considered “hysterics, schizophrenics, masochists or psychopaths of some kind.”


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