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John Pollard Harrison
(1796 - 1849)

picture of John Pollard Harrison

"Pain is curative - the actions of life are maintained by it - were it not for the stimulation induced by pain, surgical operations would more frequently be followed by dissolution."
John P. Harrison (1849)
Vice-President of the American Medical Association

In 1841, Kentucky-born Dr John Pollard Harrison was appointed Professor of Materia Medica and Lecturer on Pathology at the Medical College of Ohio. In 1847, Dr Harrison became Associate Editor of the Western Lancet. In "On the Physiology, Pathology and Therapeutics of Pain" (Western Lancet 1849, 9;352), written shortly before his death from cholera, Dr Harrison explained why pain must play an essential role in the healing process.

Since unconsciousness had previously been associated with poor wound healing and often imminent death, it was perhaps natural that many physicians assumed that insensibility caused poor wound healing. Thus the deliberate induction of anaesthesia for surgery struck traditionally-minded physicians as a dangerous novelty. Some mid-19th century American surgeons declined to operate on patients who were comatose or in shock until they revived on the grounds that the healing power of such patients was deficient.

Across the Atlantic, the British Medical Journal stated in 1858: "It is not the particular agent, it is the condition of insensibility, however induced, that puts the patient into such peril."


Utopian Surgery
Refs and Further Reading
Anaesthesia and Anaesthetics