It sounds like a Hollywood historical hit, but it’s not.
William Hunter and William Smellie really were pioneers in the field of obstetrics, and they laid the groundwork for many of today’s childbirth practices. In fact, according to The Observer, Hunter helped deliver George IV, son of Queen Charlotte, in 1762, and Smellie has been called the “father of British midwifery.”
But a new study suggests that as brilliant as the two Williams were, they were also cold-blooded killers willing to sacrifice the lives of heavily pregnant women to further their research.
Historian Don Shelton published his work in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. He claims that while death and disease were common in a “near-anarchic” London, deaths among pregnant women in their last trimester were relatively rare. Yet between 1749 and 1755, and then again between 1764 and 1774, Hunter and Smellie seemed to have no problem finding deceased pregnant women for their experiments.
“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.
Though rumors about the two have been circulating since 1755, even modern day doctors aren’t ready to believe Shelton’s research. London gynecologist Anthony Kelly, curator of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologist, told The Observer, “….”And it could be that they didn’t make proper inquiries as to the origins of the bodies, and so may not have known that the women were murdered.”
That seems hard to believe, considering that they were men of medicine. Whether they turned a blind eye or ordered the killings themselves, it’s a shocking claim that sheds light on the dark beginnings of modern obstetrics.
Photo: abnelphoto.com, Flickr
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