Ether and the Moral History of Pain: Research Ethics in the News

What can the history of medicine teach us about the barriers to translation? What are some of the obstacles between the bench and the bedside?

In a recent edition of The Boston Globe (7 June 2009), Mike Jay recounts an

interesting moment in the history of medicine and medical research, one in which “culture had finally caught up with chemistry”. As Jay observes, ether has a long history in science (with its effects on chickens recorded as early as 1525 by Paracelsus), but medicine waited for roughly 300 years to see this knowledge translated into improved medical care. What was in the way? Prior to October 16, 1846 (the date of the first operations conducted under anesthesia) our view of the person seemed inseparable from the concept of pain: “the vast majority of religious and medical opinion held that pain was inseparable from sensation in general, and thus from life itself”. Thus, while the technology was available, the doctors and the patients were not ready for medicine: less painful medical care “required not simply new science, but a radical change in how we saw ourselves”.

Read the full story:
Mike Jay. The day pain died: what really happened during the most famous moment in Boston medicine. The Boston Globe, June 7, 2009.

Other research ethics stories in the news:

Gene Patents on the Radio. PredictER Blog, 10 June 2009.
Rebecca Roberts discusses Patenting Genes with Joshua D. Sarnoff, Hans Sauer, and Shobita Parthasarathy on The Kojo Nnamdi Show.

Conflicts of interest bedevil psychiatric drug research. Marilyn Elias, USA Today. 2 June 2009.
Does it matter if most of the experts who are creating definitions of mental disorders, and standards for the best way to treat them, receive money from pharmaceutical companies?

Stem-cell clarity. [Editorial]. Nature. 2009 Jun 4;459(7247):615-6.
The draft NIH guidelines on stem-cell research are a good first step, but some revision is needed.

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