Friday, May 14, 2010

Simpson Discovers Use of Chloroform as anaesthetic

Sir James Young Simpson, an eminent Scottish obstetrician, introduced the medical use of chloroform as an anesthetic in Edinburgh, Scotland, in November 1847. Earlier that year, Simpson had begun using ether to relieve the pain of childbirth, but was dissatisfied with some of ether's drawbacks, such as its disagreeable smell, the large quantities required, and the lung irritation it caused. Ether was also explosive, which was a problem for doctors who often worked by candlelight in rooms heated by fireplaces. A Liverpool chemist, David Waldie, suggested that Simpson try chloroform. On the evening of November 4,1847, Simpson and two doctor friends inhaled some chloroform and, after feeling very happy and talkative, promptly passed out. Impressed with chloroform's potency and rapid effects, Simpson immediately began using it in his obstetrical practice. The first baby bom to a mother who received chloroform for pain was named Anaesthesia.
Scottish clergymen quickly objected to this use of anesthesia, insisting the pain of childbirth was ordained by God. Simpson countered by citing the biblical account of the deep sleep cast on Adam when God took the first man's rib and used it to make Eve. The argument continued until 1853, when Queen Victoria (ruler of England from 1837-1901) chose to be chlo-roformed for the birth of her son Prince Leopold (1853-1884). This event quieted the clergy and made chloroform the most fashionable anesthetic—especially in England—for the next 50 years.

Although chloroform did carry some risk of heart failure, it was more pleasant to take and more powerful than ether. Queen Victoria's anesthetist, Dr. John Snow (1813-1858), developed an inhaler to regulate the amount of chloroform administered to a patient so that he or she felt no pain but remained conscious.

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