"They are giants of medicine, pioneers of the care that women receive during childbirth and were the founding fathers of obstetrics. The names of William Hunter and William Smellie still inspire respect among today's doctors, more than 250 years since they made their contributions to healthcare. Such were the duo's reputations as outstanding physicians that the clienteles of their private practices included the rich and famous of mid-18th-century London.
But were they also serial killers? New research published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (JRSM) claims that they were. A detailed historical study accuses the doctors of soliciting the killing of dozens of women, many in the latter stages of pregnancy, to dissect their corpses.
"Smellie and Hunter were responsible for a series of 18th-century 'burking' murders of pregnant women, with a death total greater than the combined murders committed by Burke and Hare and Jack the Ripper," writes Don Shelton, a historian. "Burking" involved murdering people to order, usually for medical research."
"Motivated by ego, personal rivalry and a shared desire to benefit from being acclaimed as the foremost childbirth doctors of their time, Hunter and Smellie sacrificed life after life in their quests to study pregnancy's physical effects and to develop new techniques, the author says. "Although it sounds absolutely incredible, the circumstantial literary evidence suggests they were most likely competing with each other in experimenting with secret caesarean sections on unconscious, or freshly murdered, victims, with a view to extracting and reviving the babies," Shelton told the Observer".
Another founder of obstetrics, Dr Marion Sims, who has the Sim's speculum named after him was also callous about women and their bodies and performed hundreds of operations on black women slaves without anaesthetic.
Modern obstetrics evolved from this era.
When you consider the foundations of anything, the foundations do influence the structure of what comes after. Modern obstetrics imposes an impersonal, efficiency model onto women's organic, dynamic birthing processes. There are, of course, doctors who treat women individually and take into account what women want - they are however, not in the majority.
I'm not talking about them here.
I'm talking about the 'cookie cutter' approach to labour and birth adopted by obstetrics generally. The process that women are subjected to has been linked to the industrial age Taylorist ideas of factory processing - speed, efficiency and cost containing - supposedly.
Many women emerge bruised and shattered from their birth experience having been 'done to' by the 'machine'.
Meanwhile, midwifery emerged from millions of years of women helping women during their life cycle events such as the birth of children. Midwifery remains woman focussed and has sought and is seeking to keep birth normal, keep maternity care woman focussed, accommodating women's individual needs, desires and dreams for her baby and her experience.
That is where the 'rip' is - the two tides of beliefs, attitudes, values, historical underpinnings, philosophy (etc) come together and create a field of dissension and distress for both women and midwives.
Many theorists are saying how invasion, genocide, penal colony origins, drunkenness, murder and mayhem were the foundations of contemporary Australia and underpin the rules, regulations and behaviours of 'mateship' - football culture, 'tall poppy' syndrome and other rather distasteful aspects of our culture.
In terms of modern maternity care and the 'turf wars' together with rising rates of surgical birth and maternal depression, as we look through the lenses of the foundations of medicine and midwifery - makes us think doesn't it.
What do you make of all this?
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Founders of British obstetrics 'were callous murderers' | UK news | The Observer