Catholic Bioethics


1. HIPPOCRATIC TEXTS: 1.1. Precepts (Philanthropia/Philotechnia); 1.2. Epidemics (no harm)

2. ANCIENT MEDICAL PRACTICE: 2.1. Medical Instruments; 2.2 Observations


4. ROMAN INFANTICIDE and ABORTION: 4.1. Letter on Exposure; 4.2. Soranus on Contraception and Abortion; 4.3. Obstetrical Infanticide

5. JEWISH RESPECT for LIFE: 5.1. Josephus; 5.2. Exodus 21; 5.3. Talmud on Obstetrical Emergencies

6. SUICIDE in THE OLD and NEW TESTAMENTS : 6.1. Saul; 6.2. Judas;  6.3. Paul Prevents a Suicide


 1. Hippocratic Texts









 Praeceptiones, ed. by É. Littré Oeuvres Completes d’Hippocrate, vol. 9
(Paris: Baillie 1861 repr. Amsterdam: Hakkert 1962), pp. 250-272. TLG canon 627.51. tr. L. Dysinger,

Ἢν δὲ καιρὸς εἴη χορηγίης ξένῳ τε ἐόντι καὶ ἀπορέοντι, μάλιστα ἐπαρκέειν τοῖσι τοιουτέοισιν· AND should an opportunity arise to serve someone who is a stranger and poor, render assistance to such [persons].

ἢν γὰρ παρῇ φιλανθρωπίη,

 πάρεστι καὶ φιλοτεχνίη.

For where there is love of humankind

        there is also love of  The Art

FOR some patients, although aware that their condition is dangerous, return to health through their contentment with the physician's kindness.

Ενιοι γὰρ νοσέοντες ᾐσθημένοι τὸ περὶ ἑωυτοὺς πάθος μὴ ἐὸν ἐν ἀσφαλείῃ, καὶ τῇ τοῦ ἰητροῦ ἐπιεικείῃ εὐδοκέοντες, μεταλλάσσονται ἐς ὑγιείην.̈

Articella, Oxford, 13th c. DeRicci NLM [78].) fol 32r





 De morbis popularibus († Epidemiae), ed. by É. Littré Oeuvres Completes d’Hippocrate, vol. 2
(Paris: Baillie 1840 repr. Amsterdam: Hakkert 1961). TLG canon 627.6.
tr. L. Dysinger, OSB

Λέγειν τὰ προγενόμενα·

  γιγνώσκειν τὰ παρεόντα·

     προλέγειν τὰ ἐσόμενα·

μελετᾷν ταῦτα·

DECLARE [the patient's] past

DIAGNOSE [know] the [patient's] present

PROGNOSE [foretell] the future

Meditate on [practice] these things.

ἀσκέειν, περὶ τὰ νουσήματα, δύο,

In regard to disease strive for two things:


μὴ βλάπτειν.

(1) To HELP;

(2) or at least to DO NO HARM.

Η τέχνη διὰ τριῶν,

τὸ νούσημα, ὁ νοσέων, καὶ ὁ ἰητρός·

The Art is threefold:

The patient, the disease, and the physician

 ὁ ἰητρὸς, ὑπηρέτης τῆς τέχνης·

ὑπεναντιοῦσθαι τῷ νουσήματι τὸν νοσεῦντα μετὰ τοῦ ἰητροῦ χρή.

The physician is the servant of the art,

and the patient must battle the disease [together] with the physician.


[SEE ALSO: The Hippocratic Oath]




2. Ancient Surgery and Medicine







Hippocrates examines a youth
 as the god Asclepius looks on


IN 79 A.D. the eruption of Vesuvius buried the Roman cities  of Pompei and Herculaeneum.  Among the treasures excavated in Herculaneum were a small chest of ancient medical and surgical instruments that provide insight into the practice of ancient surgery and medicine. 

BEAR in mind that there was generally NO antisepsis and very little analgesia when these instruments were employed.

Instrument Case Scalpels Tenacula - artery hooks

Bone Drills Bone or obstetrical  forceps Urethral catheters and sounds

Speculum Papaver somniferum Poppy juice



THE pharmacopeia (medicine chest of drugs) in antiquity was restricted largely to:

1. opium-derivatives that dulled consciousness and induced sleep;

2. cathartics (drugs that induced diarrhea) and;

3. emetics (drugs that induce vomiting).

There were NO SPECIFIC MEDICINES that actually CURED ANY DISEASES, with the possible exception of bathing in sulphur-springs, that may sometimes have improved scabies (an insect skin-parasite).  As will be described, certain poisons taken internally or used as suppositories may have had the effect of decreasing fertility or inducing abortions - sometimes with fatal results.





There existed no obligation to visit or obey physician; in fact, medical care in antiquity was expensive and beyond the reach of the majority.  It was the patient - not the physician - who determined whether treatment would be undertaken.



Despite the lack of real efficacy, patients were willing to submit to painful, sometimes brutal procedures, and to take bizarre, sometimes repulsive, medication.



Today around 70% of conditions that cause patients to consult primary-care physicians (internists and family physicians) will improve without treatment.  In antiquity the percentage was probably significantly lower, but the fact remains that unless the physician actually harms the patient, they will very often be credited with a cure for which they are not responsible.



Medications based on plant or mineral preparations that actually treat specific diseases are a phenomenon of the modern world, increasingly common only since the end of the eighteenth century.  However the conviction (in antiquity a myth) that plant-products or other preparations can cure has existed since the dawn of time.  Patients very often imagine there exists a cure for their treatment, and that whatever the physician offers holds the potential for restoring their health.  This makes informed consent for controlled drug studies very difficult, if not impossible, to obtain.




 3. Aristotle's Embryology






Arisotle, The History of Animals, Bk 7, pt. 3
Historia animalium,  Aristote. Histoire des animaux, vol. 1 (Les Belles Lettres, Paris, 1964)
see Generation of Animals (
Περὶ ζῴων γενέσεως) Bk 2, ch 3 for succession of souls

IN the case of male children the first movement usually occurs on the right-hand side of the womb and about the fortieth day, but if the child be a female then on the left-hand side and about the ninetieth day.

Ἐπὶ μὲν οὖν τῶν ἀρρένων ὡς ἐπὶ τὸ πολὺ ἐν τῷ δεξιῷ μᾶλλον  περὶ τὰς τετταράκοντα γίνεται ἡ κίνησις, τῶν δὲ θηλειῶν ἐν τῷ  ἀριστερῷ περὶ ἐνενήκονθ’ ἡμέρας.



However, we must by no means assume this to be an accurate statement of fact, for there are many exceptions, in which the movement is manifested on the right-hand side though a female child be coming, and on the left-hand side though the infant be a male. And in short, these and all suchlike phenomena are usually subject to differences that may be summed up as differences of degree.

Οὐ μὴν ἀλλ’ ἀκρίβειάν γε (5) τούτων οὐδεμίαν ὑποληπτέον· πολλαῖς γὰρ θηλυτοκούσαις ἡ κίνησις ἐν τῷ δεξιῷ γίνεται, καὶ ταῖς ἐν τῷ ἀριστερῷ ἄρρεν· ἀλλὰ καὶ ταῦτα καὶ τὰ τοιαῦτα πάντα διαφέρει ὡς ἐπὶ τὸ πολὺ τῷ μᾶλλον καὶ ἧττον.  

About this period the embryo begins to resolve into distinct parts, it having hitherto consisted of a fleshlike substance without distinction of parts.

Περὶ δὲ τοῦτον τὸν χρόνον καὶ σχίζεται  (9) τὸ κύημα· τὸν δ’ ἔμπροσθεν ἄναρθρον συνέστηκε κρεῶ δες. (10)

What is called effluxion is a destruction of the embryo within the first week, while abortion occurs up to the fortieth day; and the greater number of such embryos as perish do so within the space of these forty days.

Καλοῦνται δ’ ἐκρύσεις μὲν αἱ μέχρι τῶν ἑπτὰ ἡμερῶν δια- φθοραί, ἐκτρωσμοὶ δ’ αἱ μέχρι τῶν τετταράκοντα· καὶ  πλεῖστα διαφθείρεται τῶν κυημάτων ἐν ταύταις ταῖς ἡμέραις.  

In the case of a male embryo aborted at the fortieth day, if it be placed in cold water it holds together in a sort of membrane, but if it be placed in any other fluid it dissolves and disappears. If the membrane be pulled to bits the embryo is revealed, as big as one of the large kind of ants; and all the limbs are plain to see, including the penis, and the eyes also, which as in other animals are of great size.

Τὸ μὲν οὖν ἄρρεν ὅταν ἐξέλθῃ τετταρακοσταῖον, ἐὰν μὲν (14) εἰς ἄλλο τι ἀφῇ τις, διαχεῖταί τε καὶ ἀφανίζεται, ἐὰν (15) δ’ εἰς ψυχρὸν ὕδωρ, συνίσταται οἷον ἐν ὑμένι· τούτου δὲ δια- κνισθέντος φαίνεται τὸ ἔμβρυον τὸ μέγεθος ἡλίκον μύρμηξ  τῶν μεγάλων, τά τε μέλη δῆλα, τά τε ἄλλα πάντα καὶ τὸ αἰδοῖον, καὶ οἱ ὀφθαλμοὶ καθάπερ ἐπὶ τῶν ἄλλων ζῴων  μέγιστοι. (20)

But the female embryo, if it suffer abortion during the first three months, is as a rule found to be undifferentiated; if however it reach the fourth month it comes to be subdivided and quickly attains further differentiation.

Τὸ δὲ θῆλυ, ὅ τι μὲν ἂν διαφθαρῇ ἐντὸς τῶν τριῶν  (20) μηνῶν, ἀδιάρθρωτον ὡς ἐπὶ τὸ πολὺ φαίνεται· ὅ τι δ’ ἂν  ἐπιλάβῃ τοῦ τετάρτου μηνός, γίνεται ἐσχισμένον καὶ διὰ  ταχέων λαμβάνει τὴν ἄλλην διάρθρωσιν.

In short, while within the womb, the female infant accomplishes the whole development of its parts more slowly than the male, and more frequently than the man-child takes ten months to come to perfection. But after birth, the females pass more quickly than the males through youth and maturity and age; and this is especially true of those that bear many children, as indeed I have already said.

Τέως μὲν οὖν πᾶσαν τὴν τελείωσιν τῶν μορίων βραδύτερον ἀπολαμβάνει τὸ θῆλυ τοῦ ἄρρενος, καὶ δεκάμηνα γίνεται μᾶλλον τῶν ἀρρέ νων  (25) · ὅταν δὲ γένηται, θᾶττον τὰ θήλεα τῶν ἀρρένων καὶ νεότητα καὶ ἀκμὴν λαμβάνει καὶ γῆρας, καὶ μᾶλλον αἱ  πλείοσι χρώμεναι τόκοις, ὥσπερ εἴρηται πρότερον












AS to exposing or [20] rearing the children born, 

περὶ δὲ ἀποθέσεως καὶ [20] τροφῆς τῶν γιγνομένων

let there be a law that no deformed child shall be reared; ἔστω νόμος μηδὲν πεπηρωμένον τρέφειν,
but on the ground of number of children, if the regular customs hinder any of those born being exposed, διὰ δὲ πλῆθος τέκνων ἡ τάξις τῶν ἐθῶν κωλύῃ μηθὲν ἀποτίθεσθαι τῶν γιγνομένων:

there must be a limit fixed to the procreation of offspring,

ὁρισθῆναι δὲ δεῖ τῆς τεκνοποιίας τὸ πλῆθος,

and if any people have a child as a result of intercourse in contravention of these regulations,

ἐὰν δέ τισι γίγνηται παρὰ ταῦτα συνδυασθέντων,

abortion (amblosis) must be practised on it before it has developed sensation (aisthesis) and life (zoe);

πρὶν αἴσθησιν ἐγγενέσθαι καὶ ζωὴν [25] ἐμποιεῖσθαι δεῖ τὴν ἄμβλωσιν:

for the line between lawful and unlawful abortion will be marked by the fact of having sensation and being alive.

τὸ γὰρ ὅσιον καὶ τὸ μὴ διωρισμένον τῇ αἰσθήσει καὶ τῷ ζῆν ἔσται.







 4. Roman Infanticide and Abortion










IT should be borne in mind that during the early Roman Empire free-born parents had the right to kill their newborn children for any reason. Exposure” meant abandonment of the infant, sometimes in a public place in the hope the child would be found and raised by someone else (although often as a slave or prostitute), but sometimes in a deserted location with the clear intention that the child should die.  Just how casually such infanticide was regarded is revealed in letter written by a soldier named Hilarion stationed in Alexandria. He congratulates his wife (whom he calls sister) on being pregnant and instructs her to raise the newborn if it is a boy, but to expose the child (literally throw it away) if it is a girl .

papyrus 744  on Exposure of Female Infant

 Ἱλαρίωνα Ἄλιτι τῆι ἀδελφῇ πλεῖστα χαί-

  ρειν καὶ Βεροῦτι τῇ κυρίᾳ μου καὶ Ἀπολλω -

  ναριν. γίνωσκε ὡς ἔτι καὶ νῦν ἐν Ἀλεξαν-

  δρέᾳ σμεν· μὴ ἀγωνιᾷς ἐὰν ὅλως εἰσ-

 5 πορεύονται, ἐγὼ ἐν Ἀλεξανδρέᾳ μενῶ.

  ἐρωτῶ σε καὶ παρακαλῶ σε ἐπιμελη-

  θι τῷ παιδίῳ καὶ ἐὰν εὐθὺς ὀψώνι-

  ον λάβωμεν ἀποστελῶ σε ἄνω. ἐὰν

  πολλὰ πολλῶν τέκῃς ἐὰν ἦν ἄρσε-

 10 νον ἄφες, ἐὰν ἦν θήλεα ἔκβαλε.

  εἴρηκας \δὲ/ Ἀφροδισιάτι ὅτι μή με

  ἐπιλάθῃς· πῶς δύναμαί σε ἐπι-

  λαθεῖν; ἐρωτῶ σε οὖν ἵνα μὴ ἀγω-


 15 (ἔτους) κθ Καίσαρος Παῦνι κγ.

Original text of Oxyrhynchus papyrus 744 G, with transcription.  Selections from the Greek papyri, ed. with tr. by G. Milligan  edited by George Milligan (Cambridge Univ. Pr. 1910), pp. 32-33.

HILARION to his wife [sister] Alis, hearty greetings, also to my lady Berous and Apollonarion. Know that I am still in Alexandria; and do not worry if I stay in Alexandria when all the others return. I ask and beg you to take [good] care of the child; and if I receive my pay soon I will send it on to you.

Above all, if you bear a child and it is male, let it be; but if it is female, expose it [ekbale lit.“throw it away”]. You have told Aphrodisias, “Do not forget me.” But how could I forget you? Thus I ask you not to worry.

The 29th year of Cæsar [Augustus], Pauni 23. [= 1 BC]






THE famous and widely-respected medical author Soranus (fl.c.80-110 AD) reflects the ambiguous Greco-Roman attitude in antiquity towards contraception and abortion.  While noting that there are some physicians who refuse to recommend either, he distinguishes between these two actions and states that he prefers contraception to abortion.  It is not clear whether this is primarily because of moral considerations, or because of the potential danger to the woman





Whether Abortives and Contraceptives may be used - and how [to use them].

Εἰ φθορίοις καὶ ἀτοκίοις χρηστέον καὶ πῶς





60. A contraceptive is different from an abortifacient,

Ἀτόκιον δὲ φθορίου διαφέρει͵

for while the former does not allow conception to occur,

τὸ μὲν γὰρ οὐκ ἐᾷ γενέσθαι σύλληψιν͵

the latter destroys (phtheirei) what has been conceived.

τὸ δὲ φθείρει τὸ συλληφθέν·

We shall thus call the one “abortifacient” (phthorion) and the other “contraceptive” (atokion).

εἴπωμεν οὖν ἄλλο φθόριον καὶ ἄλλο ἀτόκιον.

And while some say an “expulsive” (ekbolion) is synonymous with an abortifacient, others [claim] there is a difference; since [employing] an expulsive does not mean drugs but rather shaking and leaping, . . .

τὸ δὲ ἐκβόλιον οἱ μὲν συνωνυμεῖν τῷ φθορίῳ λέγουσιν͵ οἱ δὲ διαφέρειν τῷ μὴ ἐν φαρμάκοις νοεῖσθαι͵ κατασεισμοῖς δὲ καὶ πηδήμασιν͵

And for this reason they say Hippocrates, while forbidding abortifacients, nevertheless in his book On the Nature of the Child permits [the practice of] leaping with the heels to the buttocks for the sake of expulsion.

εἰ τύχοι·διὸ καὶ τὸν Ἱπποκράτην παραιτησάμενον τὰ φθόρια παραλαβεῖν ἐν τῷ Περὶ παιδίου φύσεως ἐκβολῆς 2 χάριν τὸ πρὸς πυγὰς πηδᾶν.

[In the Hippocratic Oath the physician swears not to give a woman “an abortive suppository.” However, the Hippocratic text On the Nature of the Child, advises a girl, thought to be in the sixth day of pregnancy, to expel the “seed” by leaping so that the heels touch the buttocks (the so-called Lacedaemonian leap). “After the seventh leap the seed fell down with a noise” (ed. Littrē, vol. 7, p. 490). Some commentators attempted to reconcile the contradictory views of these two Hippocratic texts by distinguishing between abortive remedies and expulsive measures.]


But a controversy has arisen.

γεγένηται δὲ στάσις.

For one side rejects abortifacients, citing the testimony of Hippocrates who says: “I will not give an abortive to anyone”;

οἱ μὲν γὰρ ἐκβάλλουσιν τὰ φθόρια τὴν Ἱπποκράτους προσκαλούμενοι μαρτυρίαν λέγοντος· οὐ δώσω δὲ οὐδενὶ φθόριον͵

For the purpose of medicine is to care for [terein] and preserve [sozo] what has been engendered by nature.

καὶ ὅτι τῆς ἰατρικῆς ἐστιν 3 ἴδιον τὸ τηρεῖν καὶ σῴζειν τὰ γεννώμενα ὑπὸ τῆς φύσεως.

While the other side prescribes abortifacients, but with limitations:

οἱ δὲ μετὰ διορισμοῦ συντάσσουσιν αὐτά͵

that is, they do not prescribe them when a person wishes to destroy the embryo because of adultery or out of consideration for youthful beauty  but only to prevent subsequent danger in parturition if the uterus is small and not capable of accommodating the complete development, or if the uterus at its orifice has knobby swellings and fissures, or if some similar difficulty is involved. τοῦτ΄ ἔστιν οὐχ ὅτε διὰ μοιχείαν τις βούλεται φθεῖραι τὸ συλληφθὲν οὔτε δι΄ ἐπιτήδευσιν ὡραιότητος͵ ἀλλ΄ ὅτε διὰ τὸ κίνδυνον κωλῦσαι γενησόμενον ἐν ταῖς ἀποτέξεσιν͵ μικρᾶς τῆς μήτρας ὑπαρχούσης καὶ μὴ δυναμένης χωρῆσαι τὴν τελεί ωσιν͵ ἢ κατὰ τοῦ στομίου κονδυλώματα καὶ ῥαγάδας ἐχούσης͵ ἤ τινος 4 ἐμφεροῦς περιστάσεως ἐγκειμένης.

And they say the same about contraceptives as well; and we agree with them.

τὰ δὲ αὐτὰ λέγουσιν καὶ περὶ ἀτοκίων͵ οἷς καὶ ἡμεῖς συναινοῦμεν.








And since it is safer to prevent conception from taking place than to destroy the fetus, we shall now first discourse upon such prevention.

 ὅθεν ἐπεὶ τοῦ φθεῖραι τὸ κωλῦσαι εἰ γὰρ τοῦ [μὴ] φθείρειν τὸ συλληφθὲν

61. For if it is much more advantageous not to conceive than to destroy the embryo, πολὺ μᾶλλον συμφέρει τὸ μὴ συλλαβεῖν͵

one must consequently beware of having sexual intercourse at those periods which we said were suitable for conception. . .

[ἀναγκαῖον] δεῖ τοίνυν οὓς εἰρήκαμεν ἐπιτηδείους εἶναι καιροὺς πρὸς σύλληψιν φυλάττεσθαι [χρὴ] πρὸς συνουσιασμόν͵ [οἷον ἀρχομένων ἢ ληγόντων τῶν καταμηνίων͵]

Soranus then describes a variety of physical activities, contraceptive devices, and medications that are believed to inhibit conception, noting that some have dangerous side-effects.  He then moves on to abortifacient methods and agents








64. Yet if conception has taken place, one must first, for 30 days, do the opposite of what we said earlier. But in order that the embryo be separated, the woman should engage in more vigorous exercise, walking about energetically and being shaken by means of [traveling in a carriage pulled by] draught animals ;  she should also leap energetically and carry things which are heavy beyond her strength. She should use diuretic decoctions . . . γενομένης δὲ τῆς συλλήψεως τὸ μὲν πρῶτον ἕως τριάκοντα ἡμερῶν τὰ ἐναντία ποιεῖν οἷς ἔμπροσθεν εἰρήκαμεν͵ εἰς δὲ τὸ διαλυ θῆναι τὸ συλληφθὲν σφοδρότερον κινεῖσθαι περιπατοῦσαν εὐτόνως καὶ διὰ ζευκτῶν κατασειομένην͵ εὐτόνως  καὶ πηδᾶν καὶ βαστάζειν τὰ ὑπὲρ δύναμιν βάρη͵ ἀφεψήμασι δὲ διουρητικοῖς χρῆσθαι τοῖς δυναμέ νοις καὶ καταμήνια κινεῖν͵ καὶ τὴν γαστέρα λαπάττειν καὶ κλύζειν δριμυτέροις κλύσμασι͵

Various abortifacient activities and drugs are described


65. For a woman who intends to have an abortion, it is necessary for two or even three days beforehand to take protracted baths, little food and to use softening vaginal suppositories; also to abstain from wine; then to be bled and a relatively great quantity removed.

τὴν δὲ μέλλουσαν φθείρειν χρὴ πρὸ δύο ἢ καὶ τριῶν ἡμερῶν λουτροῖς συνεχέσι χρῆσθαι καὶ ὀλιγοτροφίᾳ καὶ πεσσοῖς μαλακτικοῖς͵ 2 καὶ οἴνου ἀπέχεσθαι͵ εἶτα φλεβοτομεῖν καὶ πλεῖον ἀφαιρεῖν.

For the dictum of Hippocrates in the Aphorisms, even if not true in a case of constriction, is not true of a healthy woman: “A pregnant woman if bled, miscarries.”

τὸ γὰρ ὑπὸ Ἱπποκράτους εἰρημένον ἐν τοῖς Ἀφορισμοῖς εἰ καὶ μὴ ἐπὶ στεγνοπαθούσης͵ ἀλλὰ [καὶ] ἐπὶ ὑγιαινούσης ἀληθές· γυνὴ ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχουσα φλεβοτομηθεῖσα ἐκτιτρώσκει.

Further abortifacient methods and drugs are listed


[. . .] And much has been said [on this subject] by others;

πολλὰ δὲ καὶ ἄλλα παρ΄ ἄλλοις εἴρηται͵

however one must, be on guard concerning

φυλάσσεσθαι δὲ δεῖ

[treatments] that are too powerful

τὰ λίαν πληκτικὰ

and of detaching the embryo with some sharp instrument,

καὶ τὸ καταλύειν τὸ ἔμβρυον διά τινος ἐπάκμου͵

for there is danger that the surrounding tissues may be injured.

8 κίνδυνος γὰρ τρωθῆναί τι τῶν παρακειμένων.

After the abortion one must treat as for inflammation.

μετὰ δὲ τὴν φθορὰν ὡς φλεγμονὴν θεραπευτέον.






_4.3. OBSTETRICAL INFANTICIDE (craniotomy and embryotomy)

  Infant at Asklepian shrine





ONE of the most feared complications of pregnancy in antiquity was malpresentation, the situation in which the baby is not normally positioned with the head ready to emerge first.  Sometimes the buttocks, shoulder, side, or feet obstruct the birth canal, and normal delivery is difficult or impossible.  In classical antiquity if the infant could not be physically pushed (manual version) into the normal head-first or more dangerous buttocks-first (breech) position, the infant would not survive delivery. In the ancient world there existed no technology that would allow the mother to survive surgical (cæsarian) delivery of her infant, or for the child to survive forcible extraction with instruments. Until the advent of safe, antiseptic surgery in the nineteenth century, cæsarian section invariably killed the mother through bleeding or infection.  Obstetrical forceps that could (sometimes) deliver a child without seriously injuring either child or mother would not be invented or widely-used until the early eighteenth century.

THUS in the ancient world, in situations where normal delivery was impossible, parents and midwives faced the agonizing choice of either waiting for the death of mother or child (or both), or of surgically intervening in a way that would certainly destroy the life of one or the other.





in the
On the Diseases of Women, Bk. 1, 70.5




The terrible procedure for extracting a dead infant piecemeal during delivery is described in the Hippocratic treatise On the Diseases of Women, of uncertain date, (? ca 400 BC.)  It contains the first reference to a cranioclast, an instrument used to crush the head of the infant.

De mulierum affectibus  i-iii
Oeuvres complètes d'Hippocrate,
v. 8 pub Baillière, Paris,1853

70.5 Opening the head with a scalpel, break it up with the cranioclast in such a way as not to splinter it into fragments, and remove the bones with a bone forceps. Σχίσαντα τὴν κεφαλὴν μαχαιρίῳ ξυμπλάσαι ἵνα μὴ θραύσῃ τῷ πιέστρῳ καὶ τὰ ὀστέα ἕλκειν τῷ ὀστεουλκῷ.







In his book on Gynecology Soranus describes embryotomy of an infant who is not dead, but cannot be delivered

III.[XIX] On Extraction by Hooks and Embryotomy Περὶ ἐμβρυουλκίας καὶ ἐμβρυοτομίας.
9.[61].  If the fetus does not respond to manual traction, because of its size, or death, or impaction in any manner whatsoever, Εἰ δὲ μὴ ἐπακούοι πρὸς τὴν διὰ τῶν χειρῶν ἐφολκὴν διὰ μέγεθος ἢ νέκρωσιν ἢ καθ΄ οἱονδηποτοῦν τρόπον σφήνωσιν͵
one must proceed to the most forceful methods, those of extraction by hooks and embryotomy.  ἐπὶ τοὺς εὐτονωτέρους τρόπους δεῖ μετελθεῖν͵ τὸν τῆς ἐμβρυουλκίας καὶ τῆς ἐμβρυοτομίας·
For even if one loses the infant, it is still necessary to take care of the mother. καὶ γὰρ εἰ τὸ κυηθὲν διαφθείρει͵ τὴν κυοφοροῦσαν τηρεῖν ἀναγκαῖον.

Soranus, Gynaeciorum, libri iv, 4.9.t.1 





5. Jewish Respect for Life








[JOSEPHUS (37-c.100)]



The Works of Flavius Josephus, "Against Apion". Translated by. William Whiston, A.M. Auburn and Buffalo. John E. Beardsley. 1895.Cambridge:  Harvard University Press. pp. II.25, p. 597.  Greek: . Flavii Iosephi opera. B. Niese. Berlin. Weidmann. 1892.

[202] [The law requires] us to bring up all our offspring,

[202] τέκνα τρέφειν ἅπαντα προσέταξεν,

and forbids women to cause abortion of what is begotten, or to destroy it afterward; καὶ γυναιξὶν ἀπεῖπεν μήτ᾽ ἀμβλοῦν τὸ σπαρὲν μήτε διαφθείρειν
and if any woman appears to have so done, she will be a murderer of her child, ἀλλὰ ἢν φανείη τεκνοκτόνος ἂν εἴη
by destroying a living creature, and diminishing the [human] race. ψυχὴν ἀφανίζουσα καὶ τὸ γένος ἐλαττοῦσα.











22 And if two men fight and strike a woman who is with child,

ἐὰν δὲ μάχωνται δύο ἄνδρες καὶ πατάξωσιν γυναῖκα ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχουσαν͵

and her child be born imperfectly formed,
      [Heb: she miscarries but suffers no further injury]

καὶ ἐξέλθῃ τὸ παιδίον αὐτῆς μὴ ἐξεικονισμένον͵

he shall be forced to pay a penalty: whatever the woman's husband may impose upon him, he shall pay with a valuation.

ἐπιζήμιον ζημιωθήσεται· καθότι ἂν ἐπιβάλῃ ὁ ἀνὴρ τῆς γυ ναικός͵ δώσει μετὰ ἀξιώματος·

23 But if it be perfectly formed,

23 ἐὰν δὲ ἐξεικονισμένον ἦν͵

     [Heb: But where injury ensues [i.e. to the woman],  
     he shall give life for life, δώσει ψυχὴν ἀντὶ ψυχῆς͵

24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,

24 ὀφθαλμὸν ἀντὶ ὀφθαλμοῦ͵ ὀδόντα ἀντὶ ὀδόν τος͵ χεῖρα ἀντὶ χειρός͵ πόδα ἀντὶ ποδός͵

25 burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

25 κατάκαυμα ἀντὶ κατα καύματος͵ τραῦμα ἀντὶ τραύματος͵ μώλωπα ἀντὶ μώλωπος.



The following discussion of this passage is offered by Prof. D. DeMarco
The Roman Catholic Church and Abortion: An Historical Perspective - Part I [ ];

[...] an incorrect translation (intended or unintended) in the Septuagint version gives a totally different meaning to this Mosaic Law. The word zurah or surah, which means form, is erroneously used for the word ason, which means harm. Thus, the Septuagint version conveys the meaning of the fetus “not being further formed” [mē exeikonismenon] rather than the woman “not being further harmed.”  The penalty, therefore, was now understood to be a fine if the fetus was not formed, but death if the fetus was formed [exeikonismenon] . Thus, through a mistranslation by Hebrew scholars who were conversant with Greek thought, the distinction between the “formed” and “unformed” or “pre-formed” fetus was given moral significance and Biblical authority.





 In the Jewish Talmud the life of the mother takes precedence over the life of the infant, unless the newborn's head has been delivered.


IF a woman suffers hard labor in childbirth, the child must be cut up in her womb and brought out piecemeal, for her life takes precedence over its life.

     [HOWEVER.]If its greater part has already come forth [i.e. if the infant's head has already been delivered], it must not be touched, for the [claim of one] life cannot supersede [that of another] life.

הָאִשָּׁה שֶׁהִיא מַקְשָׁה לֵילֵד, מְחַתְּכִין אֶת הַוָּלָד בְּמֵעֶיהָ וּמוֹצִיאִין אוֹתוֹ אֵבָרִים אֵבָרִים, מִפְּנֵי שֶׁחַיֶּיהָ קוֹדְמִין לְחַיָּיו. יָצָא רֻבּוֹ, אֵין נוֹגְעִין בּוֹ, שֶׁאֵין דּוֹחִין נֶפֶשׁ מִפְּנֵי נָפֶשׁ:

Mishna, Ohalot 7:6.











ABIMILECH - (Jud.9) killed himself to avoid having it recorded that he was mortally wounded by a woman

SAMSON (Jud.6) who pulled the temple down upon the Philistines, killing them and praying that he die as well

AHITOPHEL - (Sam.7) whose betrayal of David failed.

ZIMRI - (Ki.1) burned a building down upon himself






1 Samuel 31:1-6

(Disgrace and Isolation)





NOW the Philistines fought against Israel; and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines, and fell slain on Mount Gilboa.  2 And the Philistines overtook Saul and his sons; and the Philistines slew Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchishua, the sons of Saul.  3 The battle pressed hard upon Saul, and the archers found him; and he was badly wounded by the archers.    BGT  1 Samuel 31:1 καὶ οἱ ἀλλόφυλοι ἐπολέμουν ἐπὶ Ισραηλ καὶ ἔφυγον οἱ ἄνδρες Ισραηλ ἐκ προσώπου τῶν ἀλλοφύλων καὶ πίπτουσιν τραυματίαι ἐν τῷ ὄρει τῷ Γελβουε  2  καὶ συνάπτουσιν ἀλλόφυλοι τῷ Σαουλ καὶ τοῖς υἱοῖς αὐτοῦ καὶ τύπτουσιν ἀλλόφυλοι τὸν Ιωναθαν καὶ τὸν Αμιναδαβ καὶ τὸν Μελχισα υἱοὺς Σαουλ  3  καὶ βαρύνεται ὁ πόλεμος ἐπὶ Σαουλ καὶ εὑρίσκουσιν αὐτὸν οἱ ἀκοντισταί ἄνδρες τοξόται καὶ ἐτραυματίσθη εἰς τὰ ὑποχόνδρια 
4 Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and make sport of me.” But his armor-bearer would not; for he feared greatly. 4  καὶ εἶπεν Σαουλ πρὸς τὸν αἴροντα τὰ σκεύη αὐτοῦ σπάσαι τὴν ῥομφαίαν σου καὶ ἀποκέντησόν με ἐν αὐτῇ μὴ ἔλθωσιν οἱ ἀπερίτμητοι οὗτοι καὶ ἀποκεντήσωσίν με καὶ ἐμπαίξωσίν μοι καὶ οὐκ ἐβούλετο ὁ αἴρων τὰ σκεύη αὐτοῦ ὅτι ἐφοβήθη σφόδρα
Therefore Saul took his own sword, and fell upon it.  καὶ ἔλαβεν Σαουλ τὴν ῥομφαίαν καὶ ἐπέπεσεν ἐπ᾽ αὐτήν 
5 And when his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon his sword, and died with him. 5  καὶ εἶδεν ὁ αἴρων τὰ σκεύη αὐτοῦ ὅτι τέθνηκεν Σαουλ καὶ ἐπέπεσεν καὶ αὐτὸς ἐπὶ τὴν ῥομφαίαν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀπέθανεν μετ᾽ αὐτοῦ 
6 Thus Saul died, and his three sons, and his armor-bearer, and all his men, on the same day together.  7 And when the men of Israel who were on the other side of the valley and those beyond the Jordan saw that the men of Israel had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they forsook their cities and fled; and the Philistines came and dwelt in them.  6  καὶ ἀπέθανεν Σαουλ καὶ οἱ τρεῖς υἱοὶ αὐτοῦ καὶ ὁ αἴρων τὰ σκεύη αὐτοῦ ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ κατὰ τὸ αὐτό 7  καὶ εἶδον οἱ ἄνδρες Ισραηλ οἱ ἐν τῷ πέραν τῆς κοιλάδος καὶ οἱ ἐν τῷ πέραν τοῦ Ιορδάνου ὅτι ἔφυγον οἱ ἄνδρες Ισραηλ καὶ ὅτι τέθνηκεν Σαουλ καὶ οἱ υἱοὶ αὐτοῦ καὶ καταλείπουσιν τὰς πόλεις αὐτῶν καὶ φεύγουσιν καὶ ἔρχονται οἱ ἀλλόφυλοι καὶ κατοικοῦσιν ἐν αὐταῖς






Matthew 27:1-7

(Despair after Betrayal)





WHEN morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death;  2 and they bound him and led him away and delivered him to Pilate the governor.      1 Πρωΐας δὲ γενομένης συμβούλιον ἔλαβον πάντες οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ οἱ πρεσβύτεροι τοῦ λαοῦ κατὰ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ὥστε θανατῶσαι αὐτόν·  2  καὶ δήσαντες αὐτὸν ἀπήγαγον καὶ παρέδωκαν Πιλάτῳ τῷ ἡγεμόνι.  
3 When Judas, his betrayer, saw that he was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders,  4 saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 3  Τότε ἰδὼν Ἰούδας ὁ παραδιδοὺς αὐτὸν ὅτι κατεκρίθη, μεταμεληθεὶς ἔστρεψεν τὰ τριάκοντα ἀργύρια τοῖς ἀρχιερεῦσιν καὶ πρεσβυτέροις  4  λέγων· ἥμαρτον παραδοὺς αἷμα ἀθῷον. οἱ δὲ εἶπαν· τί πρὸς ἡμᾶς; σὺ ὄψῃ. 
5 And throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. 5  καὶ ῥίψας τὰ ἀργύρια εἰς τὸν ναὸν ἀνεχώρησεν, καὶ ἀπελθὼν ἀπήγξατο. 
6 But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.”  7 So they took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. 6  Οἱ δὲ ἀρχιερεῖς λαβόντες τὰ ἀργύρια εἶπαν· οὐκ ἔξεστιν βαλεῖν αὐτὰ εἰς τὸν κορβανᾶν, ἐπεὶ τιμὴ αἵματός ἐστιν.   7  συμβούλιον δὲ λαβόντες ἠγόρασαν ἐξ αὐτῶν τὸν ἀγρὸν τοῦ κεραμέως εἰς ταφὴν τοῖς ξένοις.






Acts 16:25-34

(Hope and New Life)






25BUT about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,  26 and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and every one’s fetters were unfastened.      25  Κατὰ δὲ τὸ μεσονύκτιον Παῦλος καὶ Σιλᾶς προσευχόμενοι ὕμνουν τὸν θεόν, ἐπηκροῶντο δὲ αὐτῶν οἱ δέσμιοι.  26  ἄφνω δὲ σεισμὸς ἐγένετο μέγας ὥστε σαλευθῆναι τὰ θεμέλια τοῦ δεσμωτηρίου· ἠνεῴχθησαν δὲ παραχρῆμα αἱ θύραι πᾶσαι καὶ πάντων τὰ δεσμὰ ἀνέθη. 
27 When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 27  ἔξυπνος δὲ γενόμενος ὁ δεσμοφύλαξ καὶ ἰδὼν ἀνεῳγμένας τὰς θύρας τῆς φυλακῆς, σπασάμενος [τὴν] μάχαιραν ἤμελλεν ἑαυτὸν ἀναιρεῖν νομίζων ἐκπεφευγέναι τοὺς δεσμίους. 
28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 28  ἐφώνησεν δὲ μεγάλῃ φωνῇ [ὁ] Παῦλος λέγων· μηδὲν πράξῃς σεαυτῷ κακόν, ἅπαντες γάρ ἐσμεν ἐνθάδε. 
29 And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas,  30 and brought them out and said, “Men, what must I do to be saved?”  31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”  32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all that were in his house. 29  αἰτήσας δὲ φῶτα εἰσεπήδησεν καὶ ἔντρομος γενόμενος προσέπεσεν τῷ Παύλῳ καὶ [τῷ] Σιλᾷ  30  καὶ προαγαγὼν αὐτοὺς ἔξω ἔφη· κύριοι, τί με δεῖ ποιεῖν ἵνα σωθῶ;  31  οἱ δὲ εἶπαν· πίστευσον ἐπὶ τὸν κύριον Ἰησοῦν καὶ σωθήσῃ σὺ καὶ ὁ οἶκός σου.  32  καὶ ἐλάλησαν αὐτῷ τὸν λόγον τοῦ κυρίου σὺν πᾶσιν τοῖς ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ αὐτοῦ. 
33 And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their wounds, and he was baptized at once, with all his family 34 Then he brought them up into his house, and set food before them; and he rejoiced with all his household that he had believed in God. 33  καὶ παραλαβὼν αὐτοὺς ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ὥρᾳ τῆς νυκτὸς ἔλουσεν ἀπὸ τῶν πληγῶν, καὶ ἐβαπτίσθη αὐτὸς καὶ οἱ αὐτοῦ πάντες παραχρῆμα,  34  ἀναγαγών τε αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸν οἶκον παρέθηκεν τράπεζαν καὶ ἠγαλλιάσατο πανοικεὶ πεπιστευκὼς τῷ θεῷ.






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