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"Chloroform, and its use by thieves"

London Medical Gazette
(28 March 1851): 571

Sir,--I shall be obliged if you will allow me to say a few words respecting the administration of chloroform to the grizzly bears in the Zoological Gardens, a subject to which you have alluded in the Medical Gazette of to-day.

Each bear was secured by a collar, and held by two or three men, whilst the chloroform was given to it. It was, in fact, as much under control before the vapour was exhibited, as any thief could wish a person to be whom he wanted to rob. The chloroform no doubt materially aided Mr. White Cooper in his delicate operation on the eye, but a felon does not require that entire freedom from motion or resistance which is necessary to enable the surgeon to drill the crystalline lens with safety.

My experience of the bears agrees entirely with what I have seen of the exhibition of chloroform to other animals, and to the human subject, in convincing me that this agent would lend no assistance to the criminal, whatever his projects might be.

I shall not proceed to defend the opinions I hold against some remarks in your leading article; for the rules of journalism require the editor to be a kind of autocrat, to whom other members of the so-called republic of letters must yield passive obedience.

I remain, etc., etc.,

John Snow, M.D.

Frith Street, Soho, March 21, 1851.

[Editorial response] * * * We do not wish to exercise any autocratic judgment in the matter. Our readers will judge, from the statement in the article alluded to, whether chloroform may not be used with criminal intention quite irrespective of force. A half-drunken or foolish person may be persuaded to take it, and thus become an easy victim to a cunning thief. Besides, Lord Campbell's Act very properly punishes the mere attempt to administer such a substance with unlawful intention, even although the offender may not succeed in rendering the person insensible. Criminal offences are not to be measured by the amount of success which attends them, either in the noxious agent selected or in the effects which may or may not be produced by it. The ursine case proves what force can accomplish; and we can imagine a case in which determined burglars might, by the aid of chloroform, easily dispose of a solitary housekeeper or servant, and prevent them from becoming witnesses of their proceedings.

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