Professor and graduate Harold Randall Griffith, revolutionizes anesthesia

On January 23, 1942, Dr. Griffith used curare, a substance until then known only as poisonous, in careful doses to produce safe anesthetic muscle relaxation for surgery. Before curare, ether and other gases were used as anesthetics, sometimes resulting in an excruciating recovery process or even death.

Dr. Griffith became Professor and Chair of McGill’s Department of Anesthesia in 1951, and for 30 years was Medical Director of what would later become the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

The Montrealer’s contribution to medicine cannot be overstated, wrote J. Earl Wynands, professor emeritus at the University of Ottawa’s Department of Anesthesia. “Despite the introduction of many advances since 1942, there is nothing that compares with the importance of Dr. Griffith’s contribution… We who practice anesthesia shall be forever indebted to Dr. Harold, as he was affectionately known.”

This contribution, recognized worldwide, “reduced anesthetic requirements, increased the scope of surgery, improved operating conditions and decreased morbidity and probably mortality.” Historians, he added, “may refer to anesthesia as ‘before and after Griffith’.”

Over the course of both world wars, Griffith also served in all three branches of the Canadian armed forces and was awarded a medal for bravery at Vimy Ridge. For his innovative work, Griffith earned a number of awards and recognitions, including Officer of the Order of Canada, the American Society of Anesthesiologists’ Distinguished Service Award, and the Hickman Medal of the Royal Society of Medicine, London.