I understand that the practice of using chloroform as an anesthesia was forbidden by Protestant Christians early in the history of its discovery. That is until Queen Victoria used chloroform during the delivery of her son.

What were the early arguments against the use anesthesia, what biblical references were used?

  • 2
    It certainly wasn't forbidden by/to all Protestants & the lapse in time between its first use clinically in 1847 and being used in Queen Victoria's deliveries in the 1850s is hardly long enough for this have been an issue on the radar of the major Protestant denominations - what is the source of your understanding on this matter? Dec 2, 2015 at 0:05
  • A quick search found typeaparent.com/painful-birth-is-the-curse-of-eve.html which says, "Anesthesia was withheld from laboring women until the mid-nineteenth century so as not to interfere with God’s “punishment.” Queen Victoria in each of her births was refused any pain relief!". Perhaps Queen Victoria had some of her children without anesthesia, but not all? I have certainly heard the claim that pain relief during childbirth was initially resisted. Apparently resistance was short-lived. New things are often resisted and silly arguments given.
    – Bit Chaser
    Dec 2, 2015 at 0:22
  • Welcome to Christianity.SE, and thanks for taking the site tour. For some tips on improving your question to make it more solid and less subject to skepticism and speculation here, please see: How do I ask a good question? Also helpful: What topics can I ask about here? Dec 10, 2015 at 6:11

1 Answer 1


There was no 'forbidding' from any official Protestant denominations. What opposition there was, centred on its use in Obstetrics and came primarily from within the medical community. According to the abstract of the article Early Opposition to Obstetric Anaesthesia1:

Some of the arguments used to oppose the introduction of inhalation anaesthesia - especially in obstetrics - are considered. These arguments were mainly based upon a desire to retain the sensation of pain, either as a factor necessary for survival or as a diagnostic aid: moral arguments were also adduced but religious opposition is no more than a myth of historiography. The opposition to anaesthesia lasted for less than 15 years and is seen as essentially a reflection of contemporary views on the role of pain. [emphasis added]

This assertion is justified within the article itself as follows:

Religious objections

In addition to medical and moral arguments it has often been alleged that opposition to anaesthesia was raised upon religious grounds. However, despite widespread references by 20th century commentators to religious attacks upon anaesthesia, especially in obstetrics, evidence of any such attack in contemporary writings is singularly sparse.

In December 1847 Professor James Young Simpson published a pamphlet entitled Answer to the Religious Objections Advanced Against the Employment of Anaesthetic Agents in Midwifery and Surgery33 and it is this which appears to have caught the attention - and imagination - of subsequent commentators. In this pamphlet Simpson considered the assertion that the use of obstetric anaesthesia was a breach of the ‘primeval curse’ enunciated in Genesis 3, vl6 - "in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children" - and with a clever use of logic and philosophy sought to establish that the use of anaesthesia during childbirth did not actually breach Holy writ.

In fact, as a recent exhaustive study of the contemporary medical, theological and lay literature has revealed, up until that date no such assertions had been publicly made, nor is there any evidence of such views being held privately by any more than a small handful of individuals.34 It has also become clear that all subsequent comments about the religious propriety of obstetric anaesthesia arose as a result of the publication of Simpson’s pamphlet, and generally referred directly to it. Indeed, Simpson himself wrote only 7 months later that "Here, in Edinburgh, I never now meet with any objections on this point, for the religious, like the other forms of opposition to chloroform, have ceased among us".35

It may also be noted that the only two contemporary theologians of note who were consulted on the issue did not consider there was any ground for religious objections to anaesthesia. Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), possibly the greatest of 19th century Scottish churchmen, regarded the issue as one for "small theologians" who, if they entertained such objections, would thus be taking "an improper view of the subject".33 George Rapall Noyes (1798-1868), Professor of Hebrew and Oriental languages and Lecturer in Bibilical literature and theology at Harvard Divinity School, has been described in the Dictionary of American Biography as "one of the ablest Biblical scholars of his day". His view, expressed in 1848, was that "God could not have intended, by any thing in the Scriptures, to oppose the development of any of the laws of nature; which are his own laws. The application of the agents of nature, by human ingenuity, to the relief of pain, is also the use of God-given means by God-given powers. How, then, can such a course be irreconcilable with any intimations of the divine will whatever?".36

It is almost certain that Simpson’s pamphlet Answer to the Religious Objections. . . was written to forestall objections which, in the event, did not arise, and that its publication has subsequently been mis-interpreted by other commentators as evidence for a non-existent opposition. Personal reservations about anaesthesia upon religious grounds were certainly felt, but the lack of evidence - either for theological opposition to anaesthesia from the institutional churches or of any widely held (or expressed) opposition on the part of individuals - is too significant to be discounted. It must be concluded that there never was any formal ‘conflict’ between religion and science at this point, and that the whole episode is no more than an artifact of historiography34.


33. SIMPSON JY. Answer to the Religious Objections Advanced Against the Employment of Anaesthetic Agents in Midwifery and Surgery. Edinburgh: Sutherland & Knox, 1847.

34. FARR AD. Medical Developments and Religious Beliefs. with Special Reference to Europe in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Open University, Ph.D.thesis, 1977.

35. SIMPSON JY. (Letter to Dr Protheroe Smith of London, dated 8th July 1848.)In: SmithP. Scriptural Authority for the Mitigation of the Pains of Labour by Chloroform and Other Anaesthetic Agents. London: S. Highley, 1848: 43-52.

36. NOYES GR. Letter to Prof. W. Channing, dated 3rd February 1848. In: Channing W. A Treatise in Etherization in Childbirth. Boston: Ticknor, 1848: 145.

1. A.D. Farr, Early Opposition to Obstetric Anaesthesia [in Anaesthesia, the Journal of the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 35, Issue 9, pages 896–907, September 1980]

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