Dr. Orr’s letter reemphasizes the inherent speculation of a retrospective psychiatric analysis. The diagnoses of narcissistic personality trait/disorder and antisocial personality trait/disorder were an attempt to make sense of William Morton’s actions. Because Dr. Orr disagrees with some of the supporting evidence that we used, what follows is a response to Dr. Orr’s points.

William Morton’s “alleged lapses” were criminal acts of embezzlement, falsification of documents, and abandonment. Joseph and Henry Lord,1  lawyers hired by Charles Jackson, compiled affidavits and newspaper articles that chronicled William Morton’s “lapses.” This evidence is factual, whereas Charles Jackson did use this to undermine Morton’s claims. Dr. Orr states that Jackson was maniacal in his pursuit. We have proposed that Charles Jackson possibly had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

William Morton received the appellation “Doctor” as an honorary degree. Although enrolled as a student at the Massachusetts Medical College of Harvard University, he did not complete his studies. After Ether Day, he largely abandoned his dental practice to promote himself as the sole discoverer of ether as an anesthetic. His demonstrations at the Massachusetts General Hospital on October 16 and 17 were his first and last documented clinical efforts in anesthesia.

Morton printed a circular and relayed to his wife that he provided ether anesthesia to wounded soldiers at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Thomas Thurston, who was in charge of the surgical field hospital at Fredericksburg, wrote: “In that circular, he claims to be employed as the general, if not almost universal, administrator of Chloroform and Ether. He boasts of being omnipresent in the army, particularly at Fredericksburg. I never heard of Morton’s administering Ether or Chloroform while I was there. I know that he is hoodwinking the unsuspecting.”2 

George Weisz’s text demonstrates that medical specialization had indeed started in the 18th and early 19th centuries.3  The American Medical Association was founded in 1847.

We did not label Morton “derelict” for not furthering the development of anesthesia as a specialty. The purpose of this article was to explore the reason why, after Ether Day, Morton did not continue to provide anesthesia at the Massachusetts General Hospital and was not forthcoming with the composition of the inhaled gas. We think the labels or categorization of narcissistic and antisocial are more descriptive of who William T.G. Morton was.

Martin R, Wasan A, Desai S: A consideration of Charles Thomas Jackson as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Anesthesia History Association, Spring Meeting, Kansas City, MO, 2012. http://ahahq.org/AHA_2012_Syllabus.pdf. Accessed October 19, 2012.

The ether controversy.
Littell’s Living Age
To “Sir”, Boston Medical Society, Countway Library.
Jan 8, 1864
Divide and Conquer: A Comparative History of Medical Specialization
New York
Oxford University Press