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J Med Ethics. 2001 Feb;27(1):59-61.

Is consent in medicine a concept only of modern times?

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National University of Athens Medical School, International Hippocratic Foundation, National School of Public Health, Athens, Greece.


Although the issue of consent in medical practice has grown immensely in recent years, and it is generally believed that historical cases are unknown, our research amongst original ancient Greek and Byzantine historical sources reveals that it is a very old subject which ancient philosophers and physicians have addressed. Plato, in ancient Greece, connected consent with the quality of a free person and even before him, Hippocrates had advocated seeking the patient's cooperation in order to combat the disease. In Alexander the Great's era and later on in Byzantine times, not only was the consent of the patient necessary but physicians were asking for even more safeguards before undertaking a difficult operation. Our study has shown that from ancient times physicians have at least on occasion been driven to seek the consent of their patient either because of respect for the patient's autonomy or from fear of the consequences of their failure.

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