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"Lord Campbell's chloroform clause"

Medical Times
(22 March 1851): 325

(To the Editor of the Medical Times

Sir,--Lord Campbell having done me the honour to reply, in the House of Lords, on Friday, March 14, to some of the reasons which I had advanced against the introduction of a penal law respecting chloroform, I shall be obliged if you will allow me a little space for a rejoinder on the subject. As the facts and arguments in my published letter are very nearly the same as those of a leading article which appeared in the Medical Times, nearly on the same day,(a) I need not refer to them, but will proceed at once to Lord Campbell's reasons for retaining unaltered the clause respecting chloroform, which he states to be the most material one in his Bill.

His Lordship admits "that no strong man who made resistance could possibly be chloroformed," but adds, that "in the case of those who were not strong, and unable to resist, it might happen to many of that class that chloroform would be employed most effectually for facilitating robbery."(a)[should be (b)] It appears very evident to me, as I had stated, that weak persons might be robbed just as easily without chloroform, or even more easily; for it would be less difficult to rob a person by force than to keep a handkerchief applied to the nose till he should be obliged to breathe sufficient chloroform to be rendered insensible, even if the robber were so tender-hearted as to decline making use of a punch on the head, or any other old fashioned means of settling resistance.

Lord Campbell afterwards remarked, that "it stood indeed on record, that since the discovery of chloroform persons had been convicted before the competent courts of using that article for the purpose of robbery."(c) Now, in consequence of his admission, that a strong man could not be chloroformed, Lord Campbell cannot be here alluding to either of the cases in which a man was alleged to have been rendered insensible by a woman in the public streets, but to the two instances of futile attempts to administer chloroform; and these are surely not cases to call for a new enactment. It should also be remarked, that in each of these cases the attacking party was the stronger, being a man, whilst the person attacked was in one instance a female, and in the other an elderly gentleman, who, besides, was asleep in bed.

Lord Campbell's Bill having now virtually passed their Lordship's House, it will probably become the law of the land, but I feel conscious of having done my duty in attempting to prevent unnecessary legislation, and my efforts will not be without use if they prevent groundless alarm on the subject.

I am, etc.

John Snow, M.D.

54, Frith-street, Soho.

(a) See Medical Times, March 8.

(b) Times, March 15.

(c) Times, March 15.

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