Intended for healthcare professionals

Views & Reviews Past Caring

Ether frolics

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 13 June 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f3861
  1. Wendy Moore, freelance writer and author, London
  1. wendymoore{at}

As with buses, you wait several millenniums for a painless approach to surgery and then four would-be pioneers come along at once. Yet medical immortality is invariably conferred on he—and it’s usually he—who shouts first and most loudly.

The US dentist William Morton is widely hailed as the inventor of pain free surgery after he used ether to extract a patient’s tooth on 30 September 1846. A few weeks later, on 16 October, Morton administered ether during an operation to remove a neck tumour from a patient at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston. News travelled quickly. In England, Robert Liston lost no time in claiming the laurels for …

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