Medical Ethics in the Ancient World

By Paul Carrick | Go to book overview

7
The Problem
of Euthanasia

By happy dispensation all travel to an end
which sets free from woe.

—PINDAR


PRELIMINARY CONSIDERATIONS

Suicide and Language

In our prior examination of attitudes toward death, I argued that the Greek concept of euthanasia (a) referred to a manner of dying; (b) literally translated meant an easy or good death; and (c) logically entailed no one particular theory about what happened to the dead. This account must now be expanded in two important ways.

First, the modern reader, accustomed to restricting the current English versions of this concept to discussions of mercifully ending the life of a hopelessly suffering or defective patient, must appreciate that the Greek use of the term was broader in scope. The Greeks sometimes employed the term to describe the spir itual state of the dying person at the impending approach of death. Hence, euthanasia was a term far broader in scope than contemporary English usage normally allows: its meaning was not anchored in medical contexts alone, though some of these contexts were also covered by it.

Second, for the Greeks euthanasia did not necessarily imply a means or method of causing or hastening death. However, when quick-acting and relatively painless drugs such as hemlock were first developed by the Greeks in the fifth century B.C., which allowed the individual to quit life in an efficient and bloodless manner, the linguistic result was that these forms of suicide were sometimes described as instances of euthanasia. But, even then, this ascription primarily in-

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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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