Witchcraft and Anaesthetics

Witchcraft and Anaesthetics

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Credit: SHEILA TERRY/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Caption: Medieval inquisitors examining a woman to see if she was guilty of witchcraft. According to canon law, signs of insensibility indicated she was being protected from the sufferings of torture by the power of the devil. However., in 1585, Etienne Taboureau, counsel to the King of France, wrote that this procedure was almost useless as all the gaolers of the accused were aquainted with a “stupefying recipe”(anaesthetic) which they did not fail to communicate to the prisoners. Though the existence of plants and drugs with anaesthetic properties had been known and used by torturers and sorcerers alike for millennia, it was not until the 19th century that anaesthesia in medical practice became established.

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Keywords: anaesthesia, anaesthetic, canon law, devil, drugs, history of medicine, history of science, medieval, narcotics, opiates, pain relief, painkillers, plants, religious, sorcery, taboureau, torture, torturers, witch, witchcraft, witches

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