The Safety of Anesthetics: The National Halothane Study

  • Frederick Mosteller


A healthy young woman accidentally slashed her wrists on a broken windowpane and was rushed to the hospital. Surgery was performed using the anesthetic halothane with results that led everyone to believe that the outcome of the treatment was satisfactory, but a few days later the patient died. The cause was traced to massive hepatic necrosis—so many of her liver cells died that life could not be sustained. Such outcomes are very rare, especially in healthy young people.

We members of the general public can take great comfort from the medical profession’s attitude toward mysterious deaths in benign circumstances. Physicians hate them. One night I sat beside a famous surgeon and heard an anthropologist brilliantly describe the power of a witch doctor’s spell to cause the lingering painful death of a tribesman who had offended another. My surgeon friend interrupted this moving story to ask grumpily, “Who performed the autopsy?” He did not gracefully accept the storyteller’s reassurance that no autopsy was necessary, because nothing but the spell had been cast. Among students of modern magic who were present, faint doubts also swirled.


Hospital Death Rate Selective Reporting Adjusted Death Rate White Horse Massive Hepatic Necrosis 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Frederick Mosteller
    • 1
  1. 1.BelmontUSA

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