A physician says, "I have an ethical obligation never to cause the death of a patient," another responds, "My ethical obligation is to relieve pain even if the patient dies." The current argument over the role of physicians in assisting patients to die constantly refers to the ethical duties of the profession. References to the Hippocratic Oath are often heard. Many modern problems, from assisted suicide to accessible health care, raise questions about the traditional ethics of medicine and the medical profession. However, few know what the traditional ethics are and how they came into being. This book provides a brief tour of the complex story of medical ethics evolved over centuries in both Western and Eastern cultures. It sets this story in the social and cultural contexts in which the work of healing was practiced and suggests that, behind the many different perceptions about the ethical duties of physicians, certain themes appear constantly, and may be relevant to modern debates. The book begins with the Hippocratic Medicine of ancient Greece, moves throught the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Enlightenment in Europe, and the long history of Indian and Chinese medicine, ending as the problems raised modern medical science and technology challenge the settled ethics of the long tradition.
This book is a synoptic view of the way medical ethics have been understood in different historical and cultural contexts from the Hippocratic medicine of ancient Greece through the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Enlightenment Europe, colonial and contemporary America, and the history of Indian and Chinese medicine. The aim of this historical analysis is to highlight ways in which the reflections on the role of character, moral obligations, and the relationship between the individual and the community (which stimulates contemporary bioethics), have a history that reaches deep into the past and across cultural boundaries. Students and practitioners alike will benefit from this impressive tour of the history of medical ethics; 28 pages of notes will give more advanced readers the resources to pursue specific topics of interest in greater depth. At its best, this narrative captures the uneasy relationship between various factors that have influenced the development of medical ethics throughout history and across cultures, from the economic and prudential concerns of practitioners looking to advance their trade and, eventually, to secure their profession, to the influence of genuinely moral sensibilities on the part of those who recognize the special nature of the relationship between practitioners, patients, and the larger political community. In trying to accomplish such an ambitious historical survey in a scant 120 pages (not including notes) however, complex issues and historical connections are often passed over in a few paragraphs and sometimes omitted altogether. For example, there is no discussion of the history of reflection on the permissibility of euthanasia or assistedsuicide, as there is with abortion and issues surrounding economic compensation, and little is said about the influence of medical practitioners other than physicians. This is an important resource for a discipline just beginning to discover its historical roots.