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Whatever else killed George Washington, the draining of more than a third of his blood in less than half a day would probably have done him in anyway.

Well into the 19th century, bloodletting, as it was called, was the favored treatment of doctors for pretty much everything for two reasons: First, it was based on a generally accepted (though woefully wrong) idea of how the human body worked. And second, no one really tracked treatments’ success or failure rates.

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