The “Hippocratic” Stance on Abortion: The Translation, Interpretation, and Use of the Hippocratic Oath in the Abortion Debate from the Ancient World to Present-Day
De Brabandere, Olivia
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The Hippocratic Oath was written in the fourth or fifth century BCE and was an esoteric document until hundreds of years after its creation. Physicians were not required to be familiar with this document in the ancient world, and its prominence in later history was mainly due to its association with Hippocrates, though the famous doctor is likely not its author. The document was adopted in the medieval and renaissance periods, however, and adapted to conform to Christian ideals that physicians were expected to abide by. In present-day society the oath has been used in legal trials such as Roe versus Wade, and continues to be used by many pro-life associations to argue that abortion should not be permitted under any circumstances. It is the purpose of this essay to examine the oath’s stance on abortion in the context in which it was written, to reinforce the fact that it largely disagreed with moral and medical standards which existed prior to the rise of Christianity. This is demonstrated through an examination of the use of the oath by physicians in antiquity as well as the medieval period, changing moral and religious concerns with induced miscarriage, and laws associated with abortion throughout the procedure’s history in relation to changing cultural norms. Though the intended meaning of the line in question may be uncertain, it is clear that abortion was an accepted procedure in medical circles in antiquity, and that the adoption and use of the Hippocratic Oath to advance pro-life argumentation was aided by changing social, moral, medical, and religious beliefs.