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February 10, 2010

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Fascinating article, Lindsay. The problem with probabilistic arguments is when one makes the error of assigning certainty to the highest probability case, without the requisite supporting evidence.

Which would be caused for raised eyebrows, even if the historian in question were extremely well-known, -published and -respected.

Stringent tort reform is the solution to this problem. If the good doctors had not been pursued by the demons in the tort lobby, they would not have been under such heavy stress and would not have harmed their patients.

Neither should healthcare insurance reform permit faceless bureaucrats (they have been dissected, too) to interfere with the delicate relationship between these doctors and their dissected corpses.

Further, were these dissections free of charge to the corpses?

That's socialism for dead people and we can't have that in a free society. It leads to free-loading corpses and overcrowded cemeteries.

Make the corpses pay the real cost of dissection and they will be incentivized to forgo unnecessary procedures.

In a pinch, they can go to the emergency room for their dissections. The morgue takes all comers, too.

People should die alone and penniless at no expense to me.

If the corpses don't likeit,they can gun down the sillouette of a Republican politican at a target range.


Personally, if I were an 18th-century anatomist who needed a steady supply of "special" cadavers, I'd start bribing vicars.

Better yet, midwives.

Better yet, midwives.

Better yet, murderers. HOAS, I think that brings us full circle.

Why not pimps? A pregnant hooker probably wasn't going to be buried in the graveyard anyway, so if one died with nobody to claim her, it would be easy to get corpses that way.

Sextons were the guys who actually oversaw cemetery operations. They weren't religious people; they were workers who could read, write, and follow a map so people could be buried in the right place and they maintained the records of burials. Those would be the guys to bribe, along with midwives.

I simply don't buy that there was a lack of women who died in childbirth or at any stage of pregnancy during the 1760s in England, especially London. Go through any newspaper in the U.S. in the 19th Century and you'll find countless women dying in childbirth. In my own family as late as the 1920s, one of my great uncle's wives died from a botched abortion which he forced her to have, and one of my great aunts died during childbirth. And that's just one family nearly two centuries after the period in question.

Stringent tort reform is the solution to this problem.
Damn. I knew that was Thullen without even looking.
Not that you're getting predictable, John, but your style is familiar and welcome.
Winning the thread, as usual.

As Carleton noted, midwives would be a good source of info.

Honestly, if they just set up an information network consisting of a few more doctors, some midwives, and maybe some contacts among charity workers, they'd probably have little trouble getting access to newly-dead pregnant women.

Why not pimps? A pregnant hooker probably wasn't going to be buried in the graveyard anyway, so if one died with nobody to claim her, it would be easy to get corpses that way.

Stringent tart reform would get in the way of this.

Fascinating research. It proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine is the intellectual inferior of the special edition of Mad Libs: Author a Sarah Palin Speech. No one heretofore suspected this now undeniable fact.

Whoever approved this for publication should be tarred and feathered, tarred again and feathered again, forced to listen to an autotuned version of the greatest hits of Vogon poetry as recited by Fran Drescher, and forced to intern as a consultant for Ben Stein's next "documentary."

"Shelton cites statistics to show that the childbed death rate in the mid-18th-century was less than 2%. Based on the birth and death rates and the population of London at the time, he estimates that there would have been about 200 childbed deaths per year in the city."

So, this makes 32 cadavers over the course of a decade unlikely how?

"So, this makes 32 cadavers over the course of a decade unlikely how?"

The author thinks it makes it unlikely because most grave robbers exhumed corpses at random. But that is buying into the fallacy that these doctors were using 100% typical grave robbers. It seems very possible that they used a network of (as suggested above) midwives, or pimps, or perhaps had connections at the graveyard.

Weren't these guys treating pregnant women during a time when deaths during pregnancy were rather common (as pointed out above?) I'd think they'd have gotten several from their own practices. Add in a few from referrals, a few from grave-robbing, and a few bought from destitute family and I see no problem in getting 32 out of 2000 or so women.

"The author thinks it makes it unlikely because most grave robbers exhumed corpses at random."

But why the assumption that they were all from random grave robbing? I mean, as you and Lindsay point out, there are dozens of plausible ways they could have found out about the deaths - including the rather obvious fact that they treated a lot of pregnant women themselves, some of whom will have died. They presumably knew plenty of other obstetricians and midwives. It just seems remarkably thin grounds for such a bold claim. How did this get past peer review?

The mortality rate in London in the mid 18th century was less than 2% for women in childbirth or in the ninth month of pregnancy? Completely implausible. It was probably higher than that in London (or New York) in 1900 or 1920.

Death rates in London in the mid 18th century were a lot higher than birth rates, as far as we can tell from the very incomplete data available. The population of the city grew because of migration from outside, not because more people were born than died in the city. Infant mortality was horrendous, and it stands to reason that mortality of women in childbirth, especially poor women, was a lot higher than 2%.

What records there were, much less records which have survived, tend to refer to wealthy and the nearly wealthly. The poor--- probably 70% or more of the population--- didn't usually have their births or deaths recorded in parish registers and weren't usually buried in churchyards. Even if that 2% rate holds for the wealthy (which I very much doubt), hundreds of thousands of people lived and died in London in those twelve years without leaving any record at all.

There is every reason to assume that it would be quite possible to find enough of the 'right' kind of cadavers without resorting to murder in a filthy, disease ridden, gin soaked, poverty-stricken city, with rampant malnutrition and dreadful sanitation.

Dammit, I know there's a joke here about death panels.

I could tell you what the joke is, but I'd have to kill you.

Stringent tart reform would get in the way of this.

Thread-winner, right there. Thullen's probably beating his head against something even harder than his head, in frustration that he didn't write that first.

The mortality rate in London in the mid 18th century was less than 2% for women in childbirth or in the ninth month of pregnancy? Completely implausible.

Particularly in the age of smallpox. But probably a smallpox cadaver wouldn't be a choice for dissectors. But still, the fatality rate of smallpox alone in London was probably on that level.

No, I'd guess that, as suggested upthread, these cadavers were requests; whether they were located by sextons or gravediggers or some other source (or some combination of sources, even) will probably never be known.

Incidentally, I understand a great deal of obstetric surgery was apparently experimentally carried out in the late 19th and early 20th century. Perhaps this is not so incidental, as historians now look back on this and suggest that this wouldn't have been possible had the women in question had the right to refuse the surgery, which was often disastrous or fatal.

Possibly the original author of this offending article is trying to get some attention by outdoing those historians?

According to my analysis, thousands of people on our planet get the loans at good creditors. Thence, there's a good possibility to find a college loan in every country.

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