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Dieter Schmidt

and Simon Shorvon

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date: 26 October 2020

It could be argued that the greatest advance in the field of epilepsy in the modern era has nothing to do with medicine, is not electroencephalography or magnetic resonance imaging or molecular biology, or the development of new drugs, but is in fact the change in societal attitudes towards those with epilepsy. Epilepsy is not only, or even most importantly, just a medical condition, but it is also something that happens to people, and it can destroy lives and livelihoods. There has been a welcome sea change in our opinions in recent years in the way people with epilepsy are treated and are regarded. All is not perfect by any means, and stigma is still present, but it surely is much less than it was in the early periods of the modern history of epilepsy, at least in Western cultures. This chapter charts the course of changing societal attitudes since 1860, through the dire years of theories of degeneration, eugenics, positivist criminology, and racial hygiene. There has been a transformation of epilepsy from the moral to the medical domain, from ‘badness’ to ‘sickness’, and this has certainly contributed to decreasing stigmatisation and deprecation. Much needs still to be done, and prejudice can flare up quickly; but nevertheless the public attitudes to epilepsy are far better now than in even the recent past.

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