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Simpson, Sir James Young

SIMPSON, SIR JAMES YOUNG (1811-1870), Scottish physician, was born at Bathgate, Linlithgow, Scotland, on the 7th of June 1811. His father was a baker in that town, and James was the youngest of a family of seven. At the age of fourteen he entered the university of Edinburgh as a student in the arts classes. Two years later he began his medical studies. At the age of nineteen he obtained the licence of the College of Surgeons, and two years afterwards took the degree of doctor of medicine. Dr John Thomson (i 765-1846) , who then occupied the chair of pathology in the university, impressed with Simpson's graduation thesis, " On Death from Inflammation," offered him his assistantship. The offer was accepted, and during the session 1837-1838 he acted as interim lecturer on pathology during the illness of the professor. The following winter he delivered his first course of lectures on obstetric medicine in the extra-academical school. In February 1840 he was elected to the professorship of medicine and midwifery in the university. Towards the end of 1846 he was present at an operation performed by Robert Liston on a patient rendered unconscious by the inhalation of sulphuric ether. The success of the proceeding was so marked that Simpson immediately began to use it in midwifery practice. He continued, however, to search for other substances having similar effects, and in March 1847 he read a paper on chloroform to the Medico- Chirurgical Society of Edinburgh, in which he fully detailed the history of the use of anaesthetics from the earliest times, but especially dwelt upon the advantages of chloroform over ether. He advocated its use, not only for the prevention of pain in surgical operations, but also for the relief of pain in obstetrical practice, and his uncompromising advocacy of its use in the latter class of cases gave rise to one of the angriest and most widespread controversies of the time. In 1847 he was appointed a physician to the queen in Scotland. In 1859 he advocated the use of acupressure in place of ligatures for arresting the bleeding of cut arteries, but of more importance were his improvements in the methods of gynaecological diagnosis and obstetrics. His contributions to the literature of his profession were very numerous, embracing Obstetric Memoirs and Contributions (2 vols.), Homoeopathy, Acupressure, Selected Obstetrical Works, Anaesthesia and Hospilalism and Clinical Lectures on the Diseases of Women. He also took an active interest in archaeology, and two volumes of his Archaeological Essays, edited by Dr J.'Stuart, were published at Edinburgh in 1873. Simpson, who had been created a baronet in 1866, died in Edinburgh on the 6th of May 1870, and was accorded a public funeral; his statue in bronze now stands in West Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh.

See John Duns, Memoir of J. Y. Simpson (1873); E. B. Simpson, Sir James Simpson (1896) ; and H. L. Gordon, Sir J. Y. Simpson and Chloroform (1897).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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