Medical Ethics in the Renaissance

cover art
240 pp., 6 x 9
ISBN: 9780878406012 (0878406018)

January 1997
LC: 95-7359



Medical Ethics in the Renaissance
Winfried Schleiner
This book is the first comprehensive examination of medical ethics in the Renaissance. It investigates the ethical considerations, evaluations of procedures, and techniques of problem-solving in the writings of European physicians and surgeons from the mid-sixteenth through the mid-seventeenth centuries.

While much of the medical practice and literature of the Renaissance remained a continuation or reinterpretation of ancient medicine, Winfried Schleiner reveals an emerging self-conscious field of medical ethics that should be considered modern, as it increasingly separates medicine from theology, the cure of the body from that of the soul. The exceptions to this trend appear in the discussions of certain sexual topics, such as masturbation, by physicians close to the Counter-Reformation. Analyzing the writings of Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish physicians—the latter developed the most secular medical ethics of the era—he probes the dominant and emerging philosophical ideas together with conceptions of the role of physicians and of physical well-being.

Schleiner selects several topics to explore the development of ethical ideas in depth: placebos and the broader issue of lying to patients; the treatment of hysteria; masturbation; and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases—subjects that are still highly charged moral as well as medical topics today.

This pioneering study will be of value to ethicists and to historians of science, medicine, and Renaissance and gender studies.
Winfried Schleiner is a professor of English at the University of California, Davis.
"This book definitely breaks new ground in the history of medical ethics. [It] should prove to be quite important. . . . It is an excellent piece of scholarship."—Darrel W. Amundsen, professor of classics, Western Washington University and author of Medicine, Society and Faith in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds

"An extraordinary mine of powerful and disturbing questions not only about the culture of the past but about our own culture."—Stephen Greenblatt, professor of English, University of California, Berkeley

"A fascinating account . . . It offers new materials and insights to the many literary scholars and historians concerned with the body and gender in Renaissance literature and culture, as well as to all those interested in the cultural construction of disease in our own age."—Barbara K. Lewalski, Kenan Professor of English Literature, Harvard University