The modern chainsaw used in the timber industry has evolved from the original prototype invented by two like-minded Scottish doctors, John Aitken and James Jeffray. The invention was created in the late 18th century for the purposes of symphysiotomy and removal of diseased bone.
In case you aren’t familiar with the word symphysiotomy, (and we’re sorry we are and must share), it means to divide the cartilage, ligaments and sometimes the pubic bone, which widens the pelvis to facilitate childbirth when there’s a problem. This was the answer to problems that are resolved via a humane Caesarean section birth in modern days.
Another important fun fact to note: chainsaw symphysiotomy was performed before anesthetics came along.
Sometime in the 1780s, Aitken started using his version of the chain saw for
torture dissections. His instrument was illustrated in Aitken’s Principles of Midwifery or Puerperal Medicine in 1785.
Meanwhile, an equally demented Jeffray also claimed to have come up with the idea of the surgical chainsaw but didn’t make a prototype until 1790. Jeffray’s chainsaw was apparently used successfully to remove diseased knees and elbows.
Aitken’s chainsaw thankfully never became mainstream, as it caused many complications in patients who were brutalized with it. The symphysiotomy was abandoned in most of Europe around the mid-20th century.
However, in Ireland between the 1940s and 1980s approximately 1,500 women were subjected to the brutal surgery. Some women were subjected to the procedure after having a Caesarian section, to prevent the need for another C-section during subsequent births. It was presumed women would have more than one child.
The victims’ stories are largely the same: They say the surgery was done to them without their consent and left them traumatized, disabled and with a lifetime of pain, incontinence, and other medical problems.
Historians say that symphysiotomy was used in Ireland due to the Catholics’ aversion to Caesarian birth. Thankfully, in the late 1980s, victims of this brutal surgery were finally heard and the practice stopped.