Bioethics Blogs

Lessons from the Death of Charles II [EOL in Art 98]

In 1685, King Charles II had fourteen royal physicians, all under great pressure to save his life.  He endured excruciating agonies in the name of medicine before he finally expired.  

330 years later, many Americans regularly get similarly torturous medicine in a futile attempt to save their lives.  

  • Let sixteen ounces of blood from a vein in the king’s left arm
  • Additional eight ounces by a method called cupping, in which the king’s shoulder was cut in three places 
  • Enema to extract still more ill humors
  • Another enema administered, only two hours after the first
  • Shaved his head and smeared it with blistering camphor and mustard plasters
  • Another emetic to bring up the yellow humor (bile) 
  • Blew a powder of Veratrum album, the poisonous rhizome of the white hellebore lily, up the king’s nostrils to initiate paroxysms of sneezing 
  • The most massive purgative yet, to keep the bowels open during the night 
  • More bleeding, so they opened both jugular veins in his neck for ten ounces of ill humors 
  • Sweet julep of black cherry, peony, lavender, crushed pearls, and white sugar
  •  Forty drops of extract of human skull were administered to allay convulsions 
  • Rebled, repurged, flipped onto his stomach for another enema, then given the miraculous Jesuits’ bark, a much-touted preparation of the day, laced heavily with quinine
  • Another enema
  • Another draft forced down the king’s throat

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.