Huffpost Weird News
David Moye Headshot

William Beaumont, Medical Pioneer, Held Patient Captive In Landmark Experiments

Posted: Updated:
In the early 1800s, Army surgeon William Beaumont turned fur trapper Alexis St. Martin into a live organ donor and did lots of experiments on his stomach, which had a hole in it.
In the early 1800s, Army surgeon William Beaumont turned fur trapper Alexis St. Martin into a live organ donor and did lots of experiments on his stomach, which had a hole in it.

Strange things have been done in the name of advancing science, and that would include convincing a patient to stick around for years just so you could experiment on him.

Army surgeon William Beaumont, who pioneered the field of "gastric-physiology" back in the early 1800s, conducted some of his ground-breaking research with the questionable assistance of Alexis St. Martin, a man with an open wound to his stomach.

Beaumont kept St. Martin virtually captive for many years and even forced him into the army so he'd continue to have control over the man's whereabouts.

The curious case of Beaumont and St. Martin, who eventually escaped, is one of the sordid stories dramatized in the Science Channel series, "Dark Matters: Twisted But True," which air Saturdays.

Series host, actor John Noble ("Fringe," "Lord Of The Rings"), said that he's not only fascinated by science but by the ethical challenges that it creates.

"With people at the cutting edge of anything, you very often see a moral dilemma happening," Noble told The Huffington Post at the San Diego Comic-Con. "The ethics of the things we deal with are very gray."

The story of Beaumont and his relationship with St. Martin, a fur trapper who was shot in the stomach and had a hole that went all the way to the intestines, illustrates that poine.

"Once Beaumont realized that he couldn't actually care or heal this, he became fascinated by this unique opportunity to look at how the gastric juices work and see how they respond at different times of day and to different foods," Noble said. "So [St. Martin] became an ongoing experiment and he became a captive of [Beaumont]."

Beaumont would stick food into St. Martin's gaping wound to see how it reacted, and, in order to keep him around. Still, Noble thinks their relationship was fairly complex.

"I don't know why [St. Martin] stayed as long as he did," Noble said. "It was a strange codependency. I think it was the captor-capture syndrome because they depended on each other for many years."

Even though the Beaumont-St. Martin relationship ended in 1833, Noble thinks the questions it raises are still very relevant.

"We at 'Dark Matters' always ask, 'What are the ethics of some of these things and how do they stand up in 2012?'" he said.

Around the Web

About the Show : Dark Matters : Science Channel

Dark Matters : Science Channel

Dark Matters: Twisted But True - The New York Times

John Noble to host fringe science show Dark Matters | Inside TV ...

Watch Dark Matters: Twisted But True online free on Tv-links

Dark Matters: Twisted But True - TV.com

Dark Matters: Twisted But True TV Show Science Channel | Dark ...

Science Channel Looks Back at Some Dark Matters | GeekDad - Wired

First Look: Season 2 of Science's John Noble Series Dark Matters

Dark Matters Returns to Science Channel

John Noble Hosts Return Season of Science's DARK MATTERS: TWISTED BUT ...