I’m not convinced by this:
They are giants of medicine, pioneers of the care that women receive during childbirth and were the founding fathers of obstetrics. The names of William Hunter and William Smellie still inspire respect among today's doctors, more than 250 years since they made their contributions to healthcare. Such were the duo's reputations as outstanding physicians that the clienteles of their private practices included the rich and famous of mid-18th-century London.
But were they also serial killers? New research published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (JRSM) claims that they were. A detailed historical study accuses the doctors of soliciting the killing of dozens of women, many in the latter stages of pregnancy, to dissect their corpses.
"Smellie and Hunter were responsible for a series of 18th-century 'burking' murders of pregnant women, with a death total greater than the combined murders committed by Burke and Hare and Jack the Ripper," writes Don Shelton, a historian.
Thing is, you can never rule it out: the mid eighteenth century was a ruthless age with rudimentary policing. The argument here is that the pair, out of rivalry, killed up to 40 women in late term pregnancy, basically in order to see what happened, whether the foetus could be revived and miraculously turned into a baby (which technically it can be if they do it fast enough. So what happened to the kids?), and so they could produce illustrated dissection monographs about the actual workings of late pregnancy.
The murder theory rests on the idea that they would have been unable to get enough of this narrow subcategory of corpses by natural means. I’d contest that. The deaths took place over two periods totaling 25 years. Given the mortality rate in London at the time, it doesn’t strike me as much of a stretch that they would have been able to buy the beef by legitimate – or at least generally accepted - means. They’d also have the contacts to be able to get hold of them quickly.
Additionally, says Shelton,
"Although it sounds absolutely incredible, the circumstantial literary evidence suggests they were most likely competing with each other in experimenting with secret caesarean sections on unconscious, or freshly murdered, victims, with a view to extracting and reviving the babies," Shelton told the Observer.
What the “circumstantial literary evidence” seems to amount to is basically folklore: sinister assistants, pretty young wenches lured from the countryside, etc. Taken as a whole it sounds like Fielding in one of his gorier moods, maybe a sequel to Jonathan Wilde the Great.