Medical Ethics in the Ancient World

By Paul Carrick | Go to book overview

6
The Problem
of Abortion

They [midwivesJ cause miscarriages if they think
them desirable.

—SOCRATES, AS QUOTED BY PLATO

WE COME NOW to the third part of this journey into the origins of Western medical ethics. Having already investigated the social setting of ancient medicine as well as the rise of European medical ethics with Hippocrates and his successors, we are in the best position to explore the thinking of the ancients on abortion and euthanasia. Let us next see what the leading philosophers and physicians had to say about these topics. Let us also examine their related thoughts on infanticide and suicide. My final task will be to clarify the moral responsibility of the ancient physician in regard to his professional role as a potential abortionist or purveyor of euthanasia.

Among the specific questions to be pursued are these: What part did various philosophical attitudes toward death have in shaping the ethical perspectives of Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, and Seneca on the above issues? When did these philosophers, in particular, think that human life began and under what conditions, if any, did they allow that human life could be justifiably prevented or ended? Moreover, did members of the Greco-Roman medical and philosophical communities customarily acknowledge an inalienable right to life, or, on the other end of the spectrum, a right to die? Lastly, was suicide admitted to be a rational act in some instances, or was it almost always viewed as impulsive or blameworthy conduct?

Throughout Part III I shall test my earlier conjecture that many physicians who chose to ignore the teachings of the Hippocratic Oath on abortion and euthanasia (assuming they were familiar with some version of that document at all) did so in part because they were persuaded by powerful ethical arguments that di-

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Medical Ethics in the Ancient World
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents ix
  • Illustrations xv
  • Preface xvii
  • Acknowledgments xxi
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - The Social and Scientific Setting 9
  • 1: The Status of the Physician 11
  • 2: Theories of Health and Disease 27
  • 3: Attitudes Toward Death 50
  • Part II - The Rise of Medical Ethics 69
  • 4: Who Was Hippocrates? 71
  • 5: The Hippocratic Oath 83
  • Part III - Abortion and Euthanasia 113
  • 6: The Problem of Abortion 115
  • 7: The Problem of Euthanasia 147
  • 8: The Physicians Moral Responsibility 173
  • Conclusion 185
  • Epilogue 195
  • Appendix A - Principles of Medical Ethics 225
  • Appendix B - A Patient S Bill of Rights 227
  • Appendix C - Declaration of Geneva 230
  • Appendix D - Code for Nurses 231
  • Appendix E - Animal Use in Biomedical Research 233
  • Appendix F - Historical Chronology: Ancient Medicine and Culture 236
  • Select Bibliography 239
  • Index 251
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