The End of Suffering

Before anaesthesia, surgery used to be agony. It’s hard to imagine that anyone could have been anything but pleased when painless surgery was introduced in the mid-19th century. And yet, although many welcomed anaesthesia, some did object. In Zurich, anaesthesia was even outlawed. “Pain is a natural and intended curse of the primal sin. Any attempt to do away with it must be wrong,” claimed the Zurich City Fathers. Painless delivery in childbirth was a particularly contentious issue. Some insisted that “in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children” (Genesis 3:16). Others, like Doctor Charles Delucena Meigs (1792-1869), Professor of Obstetrics and Diseases of Women at Jefferson Medical College, believed that labour pains were “a most desirable, salutary and conservative manifestation of the life force.” There was even a belief, expressed in 1847 in The New York Journal of Medicine, that pain was vital to surgical procedure.
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