Susan Nixon died in 1881 following a surgical error. Her surgeon, Dr W. E. Warren, excised a normal 7-month gravid uterus under the misapprehension that he was removing a tubular pregnancy. It is believed that Mrs Nixon was the first woman in Australia to have an abdominal hysterectomy and the second to have a live Caesarean section. The surgical misadventure that resulted in Mrs Nixon's death became a public scandal, which gained currency through both parliamentary debate and the popular press.
The purpose of referring to this case is to explore the mechanisms of accountability that surgeons faced in the 1880s − a decade of rapid change in the practice of surgery. The response of late nineteenth century society to surgical error and the resultant reaction of the medical profession have resonances that are relevant to surgeons practising today.
Published Online: 3 Aug 2005
Field of Research
210303 Australian History (excl Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History) 111402 Obstetrics and Gynaecology