‘Ethics and etiquette at the deathbed in early modern medicine: a second look’

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By | Early Medicine, Events and Visits


A voluptuary surprised by death. Oil painting by Frans Francken II (Wellcome Library, record no. 45062i)

The final seminar in the 2013-14 History of Pre-Modern Medicine academic seminar series, will take place on Tuesday 4th March.

Details: Maria-Pia Donato (Università di Cagliari / I.H.M.C. Paris)

Ethics and etiquette at the deathbed in early modern medicine: a second look

Abstract: In my paper I will explore medical and religious attitudes towards the dying in early modern Catholic Europe. There is a broad consensus among historians that the eighteenth century witnessed a profound alteration in the collective stance on life, health and death, and that the middle of the century saw the birth of a new scientific discourse on death, along with a political and philanthropic willingness to have a positive impact on people’s lives. Secularisation and the rejection of fatalism are commonly regarded as the main features of the changing attitude towards death. I will argue that a shift in the way physicians’ approached death occurred and that the obligation of physicians to intervene at the end of life was formulated earlier than is generally thought. Interestingly, though, the roots of this change are to be found in religion as much as in medicine. The new stance is connected to a shift in Catholic theology and piety and the rise of Rigorism in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

The seminar will take place in the Wellcome Trust, Gibbs Building, 215 Euston Road, NW1 2BE.  Doors open at 6pm prompt, the seminar will start at 6.15pm.

The seminar series is focused on pre-modern medicine, which we take to cover European and non-European history before the 20th century (antiquity, medieval and early modern history, some elements of 19th-century medicine).

Further details on the seminar series are available in a previous post.

Ross Macfarlane

Ross Macfarlane is the Research Engagement Officer at the Wellcome Library.

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