DOI: 10.17720/2409-5834.v4.3.2017.02b

Gary Ferngren
Oregon State University (USA)
1500 SW Jefferson St. Corvallis, OR 97331
FSAEI HE I.M. Sechenov First MSMU MOH Russia (Sechenov University)
8 Trubetskaya St., building 2, Moscow 119991, Russia

This paper addresses the debate over the practice of human vivisection, most notably as practiced in the ancient world by the Alexandrian physicians Herophilus and Erasistratus. No issue in Greek medicine attracted more intense dispute in the classical world than did vivisection, on the ethics of which Greek physicians were divided. Moreover, there was a widespread, culturally rooted repugnance towards experimentation on the human body in ancient Greek and Roman society, which applied to dissection of cadavers as well as vivisection, and hampered the development of scientific progress in medical care. Patients neither expected nor desired their physicians to be what we call “scientists” today; they expected care based on a theoretical rather than experimental understanding of the body. While the practice of vivisection was debated by the medical sects of the Dogmatists and the Empiricists, public hostility to vivisection never diminished and it fueled an already-existing popular criticism of physicians. The issue became the focus of Pseudo-Quintilian’s Declamation 8, a rhetorical exercise in which the father of twins consents for one son to be vivisected to save the life of the other. The declamation explores the ethical issues in a detailed manner that, while fictional, is unparalleled in classical medical literature. The paper goes on to survey vivisection in the modern world by briefly examining its use by German and Japanese physicians prior to and during World War II. Independently of each other, German and Japanese military leaders spearheaded medical research programs in which prisoners were vivisected by surgeons in training or exposed to life-threatening conditions in studies of the human body’s response to various stresses. Although the goal of such research was in part the improvement of medical care for German and Japanese soldiers, scholars today question the scientific validity of the experiments based both on the haphazard record-keeping of the programs and on ethical dilemmas concerning the use of the resultant data. The paper concludes by describing a medical controversy analogous to but milder than vivisection, concerning children known as “saviour-siblings”, who are conceived for the express purpose of subsequently bequeathing their organs or cells to a genetically related sibling who suff ers from a fatal disease.

Keywords: Vivisection, dissection, Alcmaeon, Herophilus, German and Japanese vivisection, saviour-siblings

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