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Saint Eugene Botkin

Updated: Feb 5, 2020

by Patricia A Scott

Early Life

It is hard to imagine a physician who took the Hippocratic Oath more seriously than Dr. Eugene (Evgeny Sergeivich) Botkin, physician to the last Tsar.  His devotion to Nicholas, Alexandra and their children cost him his marriage and eventually his life.  Despite his enormous sacrifice, little has been written about him. Anyone acquainted with the facts of his life and the details of his service to the Imperial family must consider his efforts heroic. Dr. Botkin was born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1865.  His father, Dr. Sergei Petrovich Botkin (1832-1889), who served as physician to both Alexander II and Alexander III, is considered the father of Russian medicine. The elder Botkin introduced the practices of triage and post-mortem examination to Russian medicine and created the country’s first experimental medical laboratory. In 1872, he helped to organize Russia’s first medical courses for women. He established St. Petersburg’s system of Duma doctors, a group of physicians paid by the government to provide medical care for the city’s poor, and also set up a system for school sanitary control.  As a professor at the Medical Surgical Academy, his students included many who would become prominent scientists, including Nobel Prize winner Ivan Pavlov. He was instrumental in founding the Alexandrovskaya Barracks Hospital for Infectious Disease, later renamed the Botkin Hospital for Infectious Diseases in his honor.  S.P. Botkin authored more than seventy-five papers on various aspects of medicine. His published lectures appear in his Clinical Course of Internal Medicine. St. Petersburg: Imperial Academy of Sciences, 1976.  Dr. Eugene Botkin’s brother, Peter Sergeivich, who served as Russian Minister Plenipotentiary in Lisbon, described him as a “studious and conscientious“ child who had “a horror of any kind of struggle or fight” (King 61).  As a young man Botkin was a liberal and a free-thinker, though his beliefs stemmed from his innate idealism rather than from any radical political beliefs. While studying at the Academy of Medicine, he suffered temporary expulsion for his spirited defense of fellow students who had run afoul of the college administration.  As one of five elders elected by his class, he sent a petition to Alexander III defending the students. Although the Tsar was moved by the sentiments expressed, he could not grant a petition from students and the elders were expelled.  It was not uncommon for ‘trouble makers’ from good families who could not be openly arrested to simply disappear at the hands of the secret police.  S.P. Botkin knew that even his prominent status as physician to Alexander III could not guarantee his son’s safety. He urged Eugene to maintain a low profile and to avoid going out alone at night.  The five young men met for dinner on the day of their expulsion and vowed to meet annually on that date. All five were soon readmitted to the Academy. True to their word, the elders met every year to dine together and have a group portrait taken. If a member was deceased, the others would include a photograph of him in the group portrait. Botkin attended every gathering from 1889 through 1916. Upon graduation from the Academy of Medicine in 1889, Dr. Botkin was offered the post of physician to Tsarevich George Alexandrovich, which he declined, preferring to continue his studies in Berlin and Heidelberg. His brushes with authority during his student days probably made a position at court seem unappealing.  After returning to Russia, Botkin lived in near poverty. At that time it was difficult for physicians to make a decent living in Russia since they were not permitted to bill patients for services but were expected to care for anyone requiring medical treatment regardless of the patient’s ability to pay. Later he became a lecturer at the Academy of Medicine and was appointed chief physician at St. George’s Hospital, positions which provided a modest income for his wife Olga and for their children Dmitri, George, Tatiana and Gleb. During the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905, Dr. Botkin served as a volunteer at the front aboard the St. George’s Hospital train. He was later awarded the Grand Cordon of the Order of St. Anne for his distinguished war time service and appointed Chief Commissioner of the Russian Red Cross. Life at Court

In 1907, Dr. Hirsch, Tsarina