Monday, June 8, 2009


This is a fascinating article.  It talks about how anesthesia was once condemned as wrong and immoral, because people believed that pain was a natural and inevitable part of life.  Stopping that pain was sen as 'unnatural' and therefore immoral.

Even today, people still oppose new technologies because they are 'unnatural'.  I do believe that we should be careful with new technology, as it often has unexpected side effects, but it is madness to equate 'natural' with 'good'.  Life in a state of nature is nasty, brutish, and short.  The entire purpose of civilization is to overcome the limitations of nature and build a better life through technological and cultural improvement.


e said...

Good article. One of my great uncles died on the operating table when he was 12 or so after a bike (or horse? I forget) accident because the anesthesiologists apparently gave him too much gas. That was in 1930-something, so the techniques were still not perfect even a near century after the discovery of nitrous oxide. But the choice was made to put him under so they must have thought the risks worth it.

Richard Bruns said...

It wasn't until the 1970's that they developed good techniques and standards for anesthesia. The development of the pulse oximeter helped a lot. Before then, thousands and thousands of people died because of anesthesia mistakes.

Of course, without anesthesia, you could never have operated on them and they probably would have died of the disease or trauma.

But it is also true that anesthesia made surgery seem easier, so there were a lot of unnecessary procedures. That's a common problem. Someone invents something to lessen the risk of something, and people react by doing that a lot more.

e said...

Yeah. I was wishing I had asked my grandma more about it to see if she knew if the operation had been deemed necessary, or done because it seemed like a good idea, and whether the risks had been adequately explained to the parents.

Hmmm... wouldn't regulation have a direct correlation in the rise of malpractice suits (because standards are needed to prove a breach)?

Another good example of the less risk -> 'feel free to use any time' effect is the use of antibiotics. Seems like those are finally in the process of becoming regulated though.

What's next to be overused? Robots that crawl into veins perhaps?