1934: In the United States and other Western countries, the surgical removal of children’s tonsils was carried out almost as a matter of course.
A study by the American Child Health Association found that 611 out of 1,000 New York 11-year-olds had already had their tonsils removed. A panel of doctors that examined the other 389 children recommended tonsillectomies for 174 – almost half of them. A second group of doctors evaluated the remaining 215 children and advised the operation for 99 more. This left 116 out of the original 1,000. A third group of doctors inspected these survivors and recommended surgery for a further 51.
Tonsillectomies were believed to help prevent throat infections, but the New York study showed how subjective diagnoses were and how surgeons, at the merest hint of enlarged juvenile organs, reached for scalpels and forceps.
Source: Ann Dally, The Trouble with Doctors: Fashions, Motives and Mistakes (2003), pp. 227–8