THIS BOOK EXPLORES the origins and development of medical ethics as practiced by the physicians of ancient Greece and Rome. In it I indicate the relevance of their ideas to medical debates and decision making today. For example, I identify and interpret what many of the leading Greek philosophers and physicians said and did about abortion and euthanasia. The related topics of infanticide and suicide are also discussed. Every effort is made to furnish a clear picture of how these life-and-death questions were grasped by these physicians, their patients, and the philosophers who sometimes made public their moral judgments of these matters. It is hoped that through this investigation the reader—whether a generalist, specialist, clinician, or layman interested in the problems of medicine and morals—will gain a more comprehensive understanding of just how deep the antecedents of contemporary medical ethical problems extend into the distant centuries of our scientific and humanistic heritage.
Among the questions to be explored are these: Why did some philosophers and not others judge the life of the fetus to be worth preserving? What value did the philosophers and physicians of antiquity accord to the life of the chronically or terminally ill patient? When was human life judged to begin and end? Was death, according to their religious persuasions or philosophical speculations, something one should rightfully fear?
Today, as in earlier times, it is widely known that the Hippocratic Oath disowned acts of abortion and euthanasia. But what has become increasingly clear just in the twentieth century is that, on the whole, Greek and Roman doctors ig-