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Med Humanities 33:1-4 doi:10.1136/jmh.2006.000247
  • Original article

Early European attitudes towards “good death”: Eugenios Voulgaris, Treatise on euthanasia, St Petersburg, 1804

  1. E Galanakis1,
  2. I D K Dimoliatis2
  1. 1Department of Paediatrics, University of Crete, Crete, Greece
  2. 2Department of Hygiene and Epidemiology, University of Ioannina, Ioannina, Greece
  1. Correspondence to:
 E Galanakis
 Department of Paediatrics, University of Crete, POB 2208, Heraklion 710 03, Crete, Greece; egalanak{at}med.uoc.gr
  • Accepted 19 February 2007

Abstract

Eugenios Voulgaris (Corfu, Greece, 1716; St Petersburg, Russia, 1806) was an eminent theologian and scholar, and bishop of Kherson, Ukraine. He copiously wrote treatises in theology, philosophy and sciences, greatly influenced the development of modern Greek thought, and contributed to the perception of Western thought throughout the Eastern Christian world. In his Treatise on euthanasia (1804), Voulgaris tried to moderate the fear of death by exalting the power of faith and trust in the divine providence, and by presenting death as a universal necessity, a curative physician and a safe harbour. Voulgaris presented his views in the form of a consoling sermon, abundantly enriched with references to classical texts, the Bible and the Church Fathers, as well as to secular sources, including vital statistics from his contemporary England and France. Besides euthanasia, he introduced terms such as dysthanasia, etoimothanasia and prothanasia.

The Treatise on euthanasia is one of the first books, if not the very first, devoted to euthanasia in modern European thought and a remarkable text for the study of the very early European attitudes towards “good death”. In the Treatise, euthanasia is clearly meant as a spiritual preparation and reconciliation with dying rather than a physician-related mercy killing, as the term progressed to mean during the 19th and the 20th centuries. This early text is worthy of study not only for the historian of medical ethics or of religious ethics, but for everybody who is trying to courageously confront death, either in private or in professional settings.

Footnotes

  • Competing interests: None.