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Showing posts from October, 2022

Bringing back the dead: resuscitation in the eighteenth and nineteenth century

Halloween has its origins in the ancient Celtic festival of ‘Samhain’, one of four seasonal turning points in the Celtic calendar. Samhain marked the end of the harvest season and the transition from ‘light’ half of the year, associated with life, to the dark half of the year, associated with the dead.  Samhain, with its influence on modern-day Halloween, symbolises a weakening of the lines between this world and the next, and between the realms of the dead and the living.  But what exactly does it mean to be dead, and when does ‘death’ actually occur? These were just some of the questions that physicians in the late 1700s grappled with in their quest to ‘reverse’ death through the application of resuscitation techniques. Royal Humane Society pamphlet promoting resuscitation in the case of apparent drowning victims, c1860 Definitions of death and ‘The vital force’ While the scientific and legal definition of death continues to cause debate to this day, the blurring of boundaries betwee