Proceedings of The Physiological Society

Europhysiology 2018 (London, UK) (2018) Proc Physiol Soc 41, C112

Oral Communications

Drowning and asphyxia in the time of Edmund Goodwyn

J. L. Vega1,2

1. Neurosciences and Stroke, Novant Health, Forsyth Medical Center, Winston Salem, North Carolina, United States. 2. Urgencias Neurologicas, TeleNeurologia SAS, Medellin, Colombia.


This paper addresses the visionary work of a virtually unknown English medical student by the name of Edmund Goodwyn (1756-1829), whose graduation thesis (1) represents one of the most progressive scientific contributions of his time. While miscellaneous aspects of his remarkable monograph, titled The Connexion of Life with Respiration, have been occasionaly mentioned in a few history books and other medical publications, the unusually lucid and innovative nature of his work has yet to be recognized. Goodwyn's thesis contains several important discoveries: the first experimental demonstration that drowning is caused by the exclusion of atmospheric air from the lungs; the mechanism by which artificial ventilation treats asphyxia; and the first description of an oxygen-conserving reflex commonly known as diving bradycardia, which until recently had been attributed to Paul Bert (1833-1886). (2) It also holds one of the earliest (if not the earliest) experimentally-supported arguments that pulmonary circulation is continuous in all phases of respiration, and not intermittent, as it was widely believed at the time (3). In addition, Goodwyn's thesis includes one of the earliest repudiations of suspended animation, a mystical concept that confused physicians into the early part of the twentieth century, and which sparked an era in the history of medicine known as the "premature burial panic." (4) Thus, this paper intends to show the innovative nature of Goodwyn's thesis in its historical context, and to provide a first biographic glimpse of this remarkable physician.

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