Tales from the Practice of Medicine: Medical Ethics (Part I)

Liu Dao Zi

PureInsight | February 21, 2005

[PureInsight.org] Born in approximately 400 B.C., Hippocrates is known as the father of western medicine because many of the things he discovered are still practiced today. Hippocrates developed the Oath of Medical Ethics for physicians to follow. Physicians today still take that Oath as they begin their medical practice.

Hippocrates wrote in "The Oath:"

"I swear by Apollo Physician and Asclepius and Hygieia and Panaceia and all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will fulfill according to my ability and judgment this oath and this covenant:

"To hold him who has taught me this art as equal to my parents and to live my life in partnership with him, and if he is in need of money to give him a share of mine, and to regard his offspring as equal to my brothers in male lineage and to teach them this art - if they desire to learn it - without fee and covenant; to give a share of precepts and oral instruction and all the other learning to my sons and to the sons of him who has instructed me and to pupils who have signed the covenant and have taken an oath according to the medical law, but no one else.

"I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice.

"I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art.

"I will not use the knife, not even on sufferers from stone, but will withdraw in favor of such men as are engaged in this work.

"Whatever houses I may visit, I will come for the benefit of the sick, remaining free of all intentional injustice, of all mischief and in particular of sexual relations with both female and male persons, be they free or slaves.

"What I may see or hear in the course of the treatment or even outside of the treatment in regard to the life of men, which on no account one must spread abroad, I will keep to myself, holding such things shameful to be spoken about.

"If I fulfill this oath and do not violate it, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and art, being honored with fame among all men for all time to come; if I transgress it and swear falsely, may the opposite of all this be my lot."

Physicians around the world have been honoring the rules of conduct in the "Hippocratic Oath" for over 2,000 years. Even today doctors still honor a form of the oath.

In ancient China, physicians were also required to govern their medical practice strictly with medical ethics. In as early as the Western Zhou Dynasty (late 10th century B.C. to 771 B.C.)[1], the Chinese had established a comprehensive system that measured physicians' medical knowledge, skills, and ethics. According to The Rites of Zhou Dynasty, Chinese medicine was divided medicine into four different disciplines: food nutrition, internal medicine, surgery, and veterinary medicine. At the end of each year, physicians of all disciplines had to pass a qualification examination in order to continue their medical practices. The strict system of medical qualification reflected the ancient Chinese people's high regard for human and animal lives and high expectation of medical doctors and medical ethics.

[1] Wikipedia: Zhou Dynasty: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhou_Dynasty

Translated from: http://www.zhengjian.org/zj/articles/2003/8/22/23101.html

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