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The legislation and the texts of the most important medical writers of Byzantine times have been studied with reference to abortions, the ethical aspect of this social and medico-legal problem, the theological and the scientific approach. The theoretical basis of the permanent and absolute condemnation of all kinds of abortions except those permitted for medical reasons, is greatly influenced by the spirit of Christianity. In fact, religion supported the view that the reception of the seed in the uterus and the conception of the embryo means the beginning of life and accepted that the foetus is already a living creature. All legislation of Byzantium from the earliest times also condemned abortions. Consequently, foeticide was considered equal to murder and infanticide and the result was severe punishments for all persons who participated in an abortive technique reliant
on drugs or other methods. The punishments could extend to exile, confiscation of property and death.
The physicians followed the tradition of Ancient Greece, incorporated in the Hippocratic Oath, representative of the ideas of previous philosophers. According to this famous document, it is forbidden them to give a woman “an abortive suppository”. The Orthodox faith reinforced this attitute, protective of every human life. On the other hand, the Church and the State accepted selective abortion based on medical data, such as prevention of dangerous conditions in pregnancy
or anatomical difficulties involved.
In conclusion, science, church and legislation had a common attitude to matters concerning abortion and this fact reveals an effort to apply a fair policy for the rights of the embryo and the protection of human life in Byzantine society.
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