The Simpson Story #RaiseYourVoice #BAD15

Dr Roshan Radhakrishnan

Imagine a country which is finally opening up to new technologies and discoveries. A land where the laws and even the leaders of the country govern the people and provide judgment based on the rules set down by their religious beliefs. 
Into this world comes a large headed, fat guy and he tells you that your religious books are flawed. That a huge set of people living in the country and suffering for no sin other than the fact that they were born different from the others is not right... that they don't deserve to be punished. This young man just wants everyone to be happy and not cry out of pain. And he claims he can do it.

The religious heads, both local and state, chasten him for his blasphemous words. The people he wants to help must suffer because they are different. If they cannot bear the pain, then they are mentally unfit to decide for themselves and others will decide for them. The religious bodies converge to insult and defame this young man, discrediting his words and actions. The fact that he is not one of their kind and that he is known to indulge in drugs makes him easy pickings. 
When his words were proven true, the newspapers actually choose not to cover it.

Sounds like India, 2015, does it not? 

I was actually referring to England, 1847 though.

The large headed fat guy was a young Scottish doctor named James Simpson, or more accurately, Dr James Young Simpson. Armed with the knowledge of medicine and having that swagger of confidence that a Scotsman wears best of all, he would take on all his medical peers, the clergy and the church because he believed he was right. 
I imagine he faced a lot of  "Yo momma so fat" jokes too.

So what exactly were these blasphemous concepts that Simpson was peddling that made everyone turn against him? Which persecuted group of people was he trying to defend that got doctors, common-folk and the priests all riled up? 
You might know them. In fact, there is a 50% chance that you are one of 'them'.

You see, the blaspheming, anti-church (he was actually very religious, mind you) scoundrel was fighting for women. 
Simpson wanted women to not have to suffer pain during child birth.

A big advocate of pain relief for all those who were suffering (he nearly quit as a medical intern unable to bear the pain of the patients being operated on without anaesthesia), Simpson did not subscribe to the church's view that child-birth is meant to be painful for all women as atonement for Eve's Original Sin of eating the apple in Eden. And when he got his hands on agents that reduced pain in 1847, he knew he could finally do something about it. Oh yes, for the record, he 'discovered' chloroform's properties when during a party, he and his friends all inhaled it and promptly fell unconscious!   

Image source: here
(Darn druggies!) Simpson wakes up
after inhaling chloroform

Simpson would face criticism ironically even from women, some out of fear about anaesthesia and yes, some out of the religious indoctrination that they deserved to be punished during child birth. It did not deter his Scottish spirit and he just kept wearing them all down.

When the religious pointed out that anaesthesia and the 
concept of 'women not having pain during birth' 
was against God's will, he laughingly pointed out 
that God actually had used anaesthesia himself, 
having 'made Adam fall asleep' before removing his rib!

Did he win in the end? Well, yes and no.
Yes, because you live today in a world where there are options available to reduce the pain during labour and make childbirth a happy experience for the mother rather than a soul-scarring one. 
No, because it was not Simpson himself but a 'deus ex machina' moment that forced everyone to finally stop cribbing and allow doctors to administer pain relief to women in labour. And that deus ex machina was none other than Queen Victoria. 

She struggled through the first SEVEN deliveries but when it came to
child number eight, Her Majesty decided she needed her Happy Gas! 

When she finally demanded anaesthetic relief after suffering horribly during previous labours, Simpson's peer Dr John Snow would administer it successfully to her.
And her announcement of its benefits in one single paragraph, ended the debate amongst both the medical community and the church. Because her subjects all had to acknowledge that she - the Queen of the Land - would not have accepted it if it was against God or unsafe. (Not the best of arguments but hey, who cares as long as it helps millions!)

James Simpson had to take on doctors, men of God, the media of the times and even the women he was trying to help. He did this because he knew he was right and that women deserved to be free of suffering during the act of child birth. 

"There is neither Jew nor Gentile, 
neither slave nor free, 
nor is there male and female, 
for you are all one in Christ Jesus." 
 (Galatians 3:28)

Imagine the irony that Simpson was quoting the Bible's words to the church to get them to allow him to heal all people equally. He is one of the main reasons why you - as a woman - are not scared of dying of pain while delivering a baby today. 

Don't feel sad for Simpson. He led a full life and invented quite a few medical instruments used even today in obstetrics. For his service to the Queen, he was the first Scottish doctor to be knighted as a baronet. When he died, Scotland declared a national holiday and over 1,00,000 people attended his funeral. The house where he and his family lived still exists even today as a center of charity and counseling for addicts - the Simpson House.

He is proof of what happens when you choose humanity over blind beliefs and prejudices - you may not win immediately but you will win eventually. 

Be happy that 160 years later, we are not living in a world where a group of human beings are treated differently than us and told they deserve to suffer because of the sins apparently committed by somebody else from centuries ago. A world where we can speak our thoughts freely and have a difference of opinion without being killed for it.

Oh, wait...

Authors note:
I am blogging for Blog Action Day. The theme for #BAD15 is Raise Your Voice.

It is hard to imagine that one and a half centuries after Simpson fought for women all over the world, we have actually devolved instead of evolved - that today, if you choose to use science or (God forbid) common sense to show that an old religious belief is outdated, you will get killed or dubbed as an anti-national traitor.

If you tell me that women today SHOULD suffer during birth because Eve ate an apple in an 'allegedly' real event thousands of years ago, I would disagree.
But then I would also disagree if you told me touching a dog was bad/haram.
I would disagree if you told me that cows were my holy mothers.
I would disagree if you told me that solar eclipses occurred because decapitated demons swallowed the sun temporarily.
I would disagree if you told me that Godmen, muftis and priests get to decide who I am friends with, what I eat and what is right for me.
I would disagree if you told me that eating pork was bad ON RELIGIOUS grounds.
I would disagree with all of these and I would happily engage in a debate based on facts. But I would not resort to violence to drive home my point.

Simpson was allowed to debate with the churches. He was allowed to argue the merits of his case before his peers. There were so many critics to his point of view but he too was NEVER HARMED for it.

In the end, you need to ask yourself - who is the greater man whose ideals are worth following:
a) A person who uses his interpretation of a 2000 year old book to judge people and decide your likes and dislikes.
b) A person who takes on the world and his own religious beliefs because he wants people all over the world to be happy impartially.

You can read more posts on this topic at WriteTribe

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Let me know what you think.

  1. Vishal BheerooJuly 03, 2018

    Roshan, I like the way you went to that age where Simpson faced opposition and now we face the same situation. And, we call ourselves people who have grown. There is only one religion and its humanity. Sadly, what we are turning into with the hatred! Insult, violence and murder. Superb way of sending across the message.

  2. A lot of what I see happening today simple seems like a mirror of things that happened earlier. More importantly, it seems as though things have actually deteriorated now. In his time, Simspon was never assaulted for an opinion, even though he fought such an age old religious belief dor decades. Today, we have reached a stage where we are bringing back old age myths with no scientific basis and suppressing any voice with pure violence.

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