James Young Simpson

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Sir James Young Simpson / Medical Pioneers

  • Name  : Simpson
  • Born  : 1811
  • Died  : 1870
  • Category  : Medical Pioneers
  • Finest Moment : Knocking himself out with chloroform

Another young entrant to Edinburgh University, aged 14, Simpson gained his medical degree in 1832, becoming Professor of Midwifery in 1835. At this time childbirth had to be endured without anaesthetic, and Simpson began to look for a suitable method of easing pain. In one famous experiment, using himself and several of his colleagues, he put everyone under the table using chloroform.

Finding a suitable anaesthetic was one thing, overcoming the prejudices of the day was another, and it says much for Simpson's social skills and courage that he persisted arguing the case for chloroform. It was often used as a drug, while many were unhappy with the thought of women being unconscious, even with a doctor present.

In 1847 Simpson was appointed as one Queen Victoria's Physicians in Scotland. This year also, he introduced chloroform as an anaesthetic. In America, the favourite anaesthetic was ether, introduced the year before by Morton, but it was more awkward to use.

The social breakthrough arrived in 1853, when Queen Victoria delivered her son Leopold under anaesthetic.

In 1866 Simpson was the first man to be made a baronet for services to medicine. There is a statue of him in Princes Street Garden. He died in Edinburgh, at 52 Queen Street, where there is an inscription.

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