Hippocratic Out

, Sarah Carlsruh, 1 Comment

While he did not equate the current ethics of modern medicine to that of Nazi Germany, at a recent forum, an M.D. did imply that there is an “amoral component” headed in that direction.

“One of the first acts of the Nazi government was to legalize voluntary euthanasia,” stated Dr. John Patrick. Reuters reported on September 21st that “assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland and physician-assisted suicide—where a doctor prescribes a lethal dose the patient may choose to drink—is legal in the State of Washington, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Oregon.”

BBC News reported on September 23rd that “Proponents of assisted suicide believe support for legalization is growing among lawmakers and the public around the world,” and that every year in the Netherlands, “about 2,300 people opt to die by assisted suicide.” “Everybody wants a doctor with moral integrity,” Dr. John Patrick declared at a recent lecture on the Hippocratic Oath. Dr. Patrick spoke on October 8th at the Family Research Council (FRC) along with Chuck Donovan on the topic, “The Rejection and Rebirth of the Hippocratic Oath: Restoring the Oath to Influence Medical Practices, Hospitals, Family Care and Community Ethics.”

Dr. John Patrick is a retired Associate Professor in Clinical Nutrition at the University of Ottowa; he now lectures throughout the world on integrating science and faith.

The Hippocratic Oath is the foundation of medical ethics, and has been since about the fourth century B.C., but Dr. Patrick claimed that its values appear to be increasingly neglected.

Dr. Patrick, a self-proclaimed Christian, focused on the role of transcendence in medical practice, asserting that a doctor who believes in life after death should be trusted more than one who does not. Hippocrates would not teach medicine if he did not believe in life after death, he claimed.

A physician’s specialty, said Chuck Donovan, “is in his ability to heal”—he does not have a “specialty” in taking life.

Yet Dr. Patrick pointed out that “The first gas chamber was built by a doctor, not by an engineer.” The process of exterminating the Jews was handed over from soldiers (who executed by means of a firing line in front of a burial pit) to doctors, he said, explaining that doctors at concentrations camps would assess those coming off the trains and, depending on the prisoners’ determined level of vitality, would send them either to a work camp or death camp. The doctors’ defense when all of this was discovered, said Dr. Patrick, was that “everything that we did was legal.” Dr. Patrick then asserted that just “because something is legal does not make it right.”

Chuck Donovan also warned of the ethical repercussions of pulling away from the Hippocratic Oath. Donovan, Senior Research Fellow of Domestic Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation, is an active advocate for bioethic and family issues (Donovan is also a former FRC employee).

Topics covered under the Hippocratic Oath, said Donovan, include euthanasia, abortion, doctor-patient confidentiality, and seduction of a patient, but he pointed out an increasing “direct aversion” to the Hippocratic Oath, citing a 1993 survey of 150 U.S. and Canadian medical schools. It showed that only 14 percent of the modern oaths used explicitly forbid the practice of euthanasia, eight percent disallowed abortion, and three percent forbid sexual contact with patients. He thus called modern medical ethics a “complete reversion of the Hippocratic Oath.”

There is no longer a standard version of the Hippocratic Oath—rather, there are classical versions and modern ones, such as the popular Louis Lasagna version of 1964, which notably lacks transcendent language and reference to euthanasia or abortion. We are in a time of “grave moral recession,” argued Donovan.

Sarah Carlsruh is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.