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medical ethics


Subject Religion

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631198963.2005.x


Medical ethics is concerned with the questions of right, wrong, duty, conscience, good and evil as they arise in medical practice. From the time of Hippocrates (b. 460 bc ), if not before, practising physicians have sought to regulate their attitudes and behaviour by moral criteria. Most contemporary medical codes reflect the work of the Unitarian physician Thomas Percival who published an early book on medical ethics in 1803. In 1948, the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted a modern version of the Hippocratic oath, in which the practitioner pledges himself to the service of humanity, and to ‘maintain the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception’. He swears ‘even under threat, I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity’ ( Declaration of Geneva ). The Judaeo-Christian tradition provided similar moral criteria. The Old Testament health laws, the attitude of Jesus Christ towards the sick and the ministry of healing within the church affirmed the sacred humanity of the sick person. Christians stressed the motive and duty of compassion in the care of the sick. There has been a strong relationship between Judaeo-Christian faith and medical practice. There have also been areas of conflict. Certain theologies of life, providence and suffering opposed certain medical practices on the grounds that they implied that issues of life and death were ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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