The risks of childbirth: physicians, finance, and women's deaths in the law courts of seventeenth-century rome

De Renzi, Silvia (2010). The risks of childbirth: physicians, finance, and women's deaths in the law courts of seventeenth-century rome. Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 84(4) pp. 549–577.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1353/bhm.2010.0026

Abstract

In seventeenth-century Rome a popular financial scheme made it crucial to establish if pregnancy or childbirth had caused a woman’s death. Courts sought medical advice and this prompted physicians to reconsider the issues. Their disagreements provide historians with evidence from which to reassess received views of early modern doctors’ involvement with birthing bodies. Among others, Paolo Zacchia intervened, revealing discord between physicians and jurists on how to establish the causes of death. One of his testimonies in a case shows more broadly how legal, medical, and lay views on pregnancy and childbirth intersected in courts of law. In Roman tribunals the very distinction between healthy and preternatural births was contentious, and the parties had an interest in having births either proved healthy in medical terms or construed as pathological. The controversies, the author argues, challenge historical expectations about early modern perceptions, including the boundaries between female and male, private and public, healthy and pathological.

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