Medical Ethics and Human Vivisection. Cases and Debates from Antiquity to the Industrial Revolution

Variant title

Etica medica e vivisezione umana. Casi e dibattiti dall’antichità alla rivoluzione industriale


In this essay, we propose the reconstruction of some sensational cases of human vivisection and the ethical debates they have triggered. The research covers the long period of time that goes from Antiquity to the Industrial Revolution. Given the breadth of the time frame, it is clear that it is not our aim to go into the specific details of each case, but to generate an overview and highlight historical trends. It should also be noted that the historical reality of some cases is controversial, just as the ethical evaluations of the same are dissonant. However, the debates on human vivisection and medical ethics are real in their consequences, regardless of whether all the narrated experiments actually took place. The conclusion of this research is that, paradoxically, the closer we get to our days, the more the alleged violations of medical ethics increase. This may of course depend on a lack of documentation regarding the past, but the hypothesis that the greater intertwining of economic interests and scientific research that characterizes industrial societies has played a role in the ethical desensitization of a substantial number of researchers cannot be ruled out.

Article history

Received 24 January 2022. Accepted without revisions 24 January 2022. Published online 24 January 2022




Italian (it)


Riccardo CampaJagiellonian University in Krakow


Orbis Idearum Volume 9, Issue 2 (2021), 87-124
On the History of Bioethical Ideas