First Blood Transfusions: An Illustrated History by Elizabeth Yale, Presented by JSTOR
Date: Wednesday, June 29th
Location: Morbid Anatomy Museum, 424 Third Avenue, 11215 Brooklyn
The worlds first experiments with blood transfusion occurred in the mid-1660s in England. The procedure, which was first carried out between dogs, was gruesome: the dogs were tied down, the arteries and veins in their necks opened, and blood transferred from one to another through quills (most likely made from goose feathers) inserted into the blood vessels. The experimentalist started and stopped the flow of blood by loosening and tightening threads tied with running knots around the dogs blood vessels. The blood of the emittent dog flowed from its carotid artery into a vein in the recipients neck while the recipients own blood ran out its carotid artery. According to physician Richard Lower, who described the operation in an essay published in 1666 in Philosophical Transactions, the worlds oldest scientific journal, the transfusion came to an end when the emittent dog began to cry, and faint, and fall into Convulsions, and at last dye [;;sic];;.
In our own day, blood transfusion has become an accepted, relatively uncontroversial medical therapy. We treat blood as a commodity, swapping units in and out of bodies as necessary. Yet in Lowers time, it was wholly new, and such experimentswhich he was one of the first to performwere met with fear and controversy, much of which hung on a seemingly simple question: when blood passes from one body into another, what does it carry with it?
Elizabeth Yale is the author of Sociable Knowledge: Natural History and the Nation in Early Modern Britain (University of Pennsylvania Press). She teaches at the University of Iowa Center for the Book.
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