Saturday, January 7, 2012

One of the earliest to advocate the use of the stethoscope.

John Elliotson (1791 –1868) was an English physician.

Elliotson was one of the first teachers in London to appreciate the value of clinical lecturing, and one of the earliest among British physicians to advocate the employment of the stethoscope.

John Elliotson established a reputatiion early in his career as open to innovative ideas, insistent on empirical methods of research, and ready to experiment with new medical procedures that promised to benefit patients' health. In 1831, he was elected Professor of Physic in the new, secular London University, and helped transform it into the institution that continues to be known even now as University College London. An advocate of close ties between academic and clinical work, he became physician to University College Hospital in 1834.

He was a student of phrenology and mesmerism, but at the time both fields were vying for scientific authority. Elliotson hoped his development of mesmerism would lead to new therapeutic applications for medical science (and so also help score 'social reform' points against UCL's 'Tory' Rival, Kings). Elliotson tended to use working class, female subjects for mesmeric research and demonstration, often from Irish immigrant communities. This was not unusual, but was perhaps his downfall. Because the effects of mesmerism took place in the subjects mind, the scientific community had to believe their testimony. Elliotson tried using middle-class peers as subjects, but felt they brought with them an undesirable obtrusion of their own sense of identity and their expectations of the experiment would led them to censor their reports. In comparison, Elliotson, rather patronisingly to contemporary eyes, felt the poorer subjects were closer to the mechanical instruments or animals of physical or physiological experimental traditions. He famously claimed he could play the brain of his subjects as he would a piano. The same prejudices, however, made it easier to discount his work, especially as Elliotson's subjects proved to be slightly less passive than he had hoped.

His interest in mesmerism eventually brought him into collision with the materialist biases of the medical committee of the hospital, a circumstance which led him, in December 1838, to resign the offices held by him there and at the university.

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