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Ancient euthanasia: 'good death' and the doctor in the graeco-Roman world


  • Van Hooff, Anton J. L.


This article maps the concept of 'good death' (euthanasia) in the ancient world and explores the marginal role of the doctor at a 'good dying'. His assistance was not needed when the Homeric warrior died as a hero and was expected to accept death with resignation. Later the city-state regarded as heroes the men fallen for the cause of the community, honouring these model citizens as those who died well. In the more individualistic age of Hellenism and the Roman Empire, a death in luxury or without suffering could be styled euthanasia. The doctor had neither a place in those acts of dying nor in cases of natural death. He shunned death as a failure of his art. Sometimes a doctor was called in to assist in voluntary death, a role that was not forbidden by the Hippocratic oath. An appeal to this oath by opponents of euthanasia in the modern sense of the word therefore is mistaken.

Suggested Citation

  • Van Hooff, Anton J. L., 2004. "Ancient euthanasia: 'good death' and the doctor in the graeco-Roman world," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 58(5), pages 975-985, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:58:y:2004:i:5:p:975-985

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