Sir James Young Simpson

1811-1870. Discoverer of the anaesthetic effect of chloroform. Son of a Scottish village baker, Simpson qualified in medicine at Edinburgh University and in 1840 was elected to the chair of medicine and midwifery. Ether was used in an operation in Edinburgh in 1846 and Simpson, experimenting on himself, looked for more suitable compounds for application, especially in midwifery-and in 1847 discovered the effect of chloroform. Violent controversy ensued which died out after 1853, when Queen Victoria was given chloroform at the birth of Prince Leopold. In his later days Simpson's fame was worldwide.

As a student Simpson showed little interest in religion; after his marriage in 1839, however, he joined the kirk. Duns believes he was converted about this time. He made good use of his detailed knowledge of the Bible, imbibed from his deeply religious home background, in his Religious Objections to the Employment of Anaesthesia (1848). In this he effectively argues that God Himself used anaesthesia to prevent pain (Gen. 2:21), that “sorrow” in the curse of Genesis 3:16,17 does not mean “pain” but “labor,” and that in any case the curse was not immutable (otherwise it would be sinful to pull up thorns and thistles or to use a tractor).

J. Duns, Memoir of Sir James Y. Simpson (1873); and J.A. Shepherd, Simpson and Syme of Edinburgh (1969).