The Hippocratic Oath

We affirm the dignity and sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death.
However, the ‘consumerisation’ of dying is putting pressure on people in the medical professions to accept or even support voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, often against their values and beliefs.
Therefore, we call on professional bodies representing doctors and nurses to uphold the Hippocratic Oath, and defend the rights of their members to act according to their conscience on this issue without coercion.

4 comments

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  • As a retired neurosurgeon, may I suggest there are some problems with your thesis, both factual and scriptural.1.  Your Affirmation about the sanctity of life is not part of the Hippocratic Oath; neither, as far as I am aware, does the statement occur in any of the modern versions of the medical oath.2.  The sanctity of human life is not actually a Biblical doctrine; neither is the right to life supported by scripture (the right to life was lost in the Garden of Eden).3.  I do not think that doctors and nurses, particularly Christians, should take such an oath, because all medical oaths contain some statements that Christians cannot affirm.  I did not do so when I qualified.My main point is that I do not think erroneous appeals to the sanctity of life, or the right to life is the best way for Christians to argue against such issues as abortion and euthanasia, which I believe is why we so often lose the argument.
    • Phil, Thank you very much for this comment. First of all, it seems this was intended to be more of a conversation starter than a highly-polished finished product. Secondly, I believe the 'Hippocratic Oath' is used here as more of a shorthand for the concept of 'doing no harm' (a phrase which I just learned was not actually contained in the ancient oath at all!). As outlined in the thesis, an important concern is one of conscience--if certain medical professionals believe they are being pressured 'to DO harm' should we not work to allow them to act according to their conscience? However, the comment below by Jon Thompson raises very important concerns surrounding 'conscience'. Thus, I am inclined to agree with you that perhaps there should be no oath in the first place. My knowledge of contemporary criteria in this area is practically non-existent so I must defer to your experience and insight. You are absolutely right to point out that sanctity of life is not part of the Hippocratic Oath. I think the 'affirmation' was intended to stand alone, although it is confusing because the title suggests that the entire thesis addresses the Hippocratic Oath. Whilst, as you pointed out, 'sanctity of human life' is not a biblical doctrine per se (especially considering all that phrase entails in public discourse today), I believe a very strong case can be built from the rich Christian tradition of affirming the importance of the Imago Dei. I'm intrigued by your statement: 'the right to life was lost in the Garden of Eden' and would love for you to explain that in more detail. Ultimately, I confess that I am out of my depth as far as this concerns medical practice and hope you'll receive my comments with grace. I would be genuinely interested to hear how you think this particular issue should/could be addressed today.
  • Dear Jonathan,Great thesis. I'm very much in support of it! However, I might suggest one slight change. You encourage professional bodies to 'defend the rights of their members to act according to their conscience on this issue without coercion'. While conscience is vital, we may want to restrict both the right to conscience and the responsibility to defend that right to negative categories, such as 'conscientious refusal' and/or 'conscientious objection'. This is because some might claim a conscientious right to positive actions -- such as carrying out euthanasia/physician-assisted suicide. However, I believe the Christian view is that such actions are not protected by appeals to conscience.