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Sir James Young Simpson


James Young Simpson
(1811-1870)

Pioneer of anaesthesia

Bathgate-born Simpson was a high-flying young doctor whose major medical preoccupation was the alleviation of physical pain in his patients, particularly those undergoing surgery and childbirth. In 1847 he and two assistants tested chloroform on themselves; in a minute, he delightedly reported, all three were under the table. The anaesthetic was introduced two weeks later to Edinburgh Infirmary, but the forces of superstition fought a strong rearguard action, believing it to be God’s will that humans should suffer. Anaesthesia gained full respectability when Queen Victoria used it in childbirth in 1853.

More About James Young Simpson. Some people have the notion that the Scot James Young Simpson invented chloroform. He didn't, but chloroform owes a lot to this boy from Bathgate. Humans have always found aids to knocking themselves out, from the caveman's club to booze. Chloroform, a medical aid, was discovered independently by two chemists, one in France, one in Germany. It was a dodgy drug, but others, including Simpson, got the kinks worked out of it, and Simpson went on to make it respectable.

The young professor of midwifery at Edinburgh University in 1840 did not believe in pain. This was pretty revolutionary for his time. Conservative-minded doctors in that age believed that pain was actually good for people, and especially for women in childbirth.

Churchmen were even more enthusiastic, quoting the Old Testament; 'In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children.' Simpson did not give a hoot. He could not believe that God meant women to suffer, only that men were quite indifferent to women's suffering. He used anaesthetics to help women through childbirth, and the Establishment of the time thought his notions were disgraceful.

They were all knocked sideways when the English physician John Snow used chloroform on Queen Victoria when she gave birth to Prince Leopold in 1853. The naggers could not argue with the queen. Suddenly women were entitled to comfort, even though Eve was the source of all sin. Simpson is a big man. A great Scot for his sympathy tor women in pain.