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"I have endeavored to show that there is no real service of humanity in the profession [of medicine] and that it is injurious to mankind." - Gandhi
The reliance on bloodletting was largely due to the physician Claudius Galen, considered one of the greatest figures in the entire history of medicine. In the centuries that followed him and his teachings, millions of people - many of whom desperately needed all the blood they could muster - were quite literally killed by doctors.
Benjamin Rush - the "American Hippocrates" - was the leading advocate of bleeding in this county, advocating removal of as much as four-fifths of all the blood in the body.
From The Myth of Medicine:
Boasting of their alleged progress one medical writer says, 'We no longer poison our patients with mercury or purge them with violent drugs,' but... these vicious practices were abandoned at the bayonet's point and not because they wanted to discontinue them. The medical historian proudly points out that the profession has 'abandoned the deadly practice of indiscriminate bleeding,' but he never explains that they strongly resisted the forces that finally compelled them to cease bleeding their patients to death.
 Youngson, RM. Medical Blunders New York: New York University Press 1999:32.
 Shelton, HM. The Myth of Medicine Sarasota: BookWorld Press, Incorporated, 1995:259.