Medical Ethics in the Ancient World

By Paul Carrick | Go to book overview

8
The Physicians
Moral Responsibility

No physician, insofar as he is a physician,
considers his own good in what he prescribes, hut
the good of his patient; for the true physician is
also a ruler having the human body as a subject,
and is not a money-maker.

—PLATO

WHAT SENSE OF MORAL RESPONSIBILITY did the ancient physicians characteristically possess when granting or denying their patients' requests for abortive remedies or lethal poisons? This is the question we are now prepared to explore. The term “responsibility” is an exceedingly rich one containing several different meanings. I intend to focus on what H. L. A. Hart has called “role responsibility.” What duties or institutional constraints are borne by an individual in virtue of his or her working role in a given society?1 Our purpose here is not to reconstruct an ancient scale by which to praise or blame the conduct of the pre-Christian physician. Rather, our purpose is to comprehend the moral force of some of the relevant craft and related institutional values that may have influenced the typical Greek and Roman doctor's conduct when his medical assistance was sought by patients seeking to prevent or end life.

I shall argue that the dominant medical ethical values expressed by the Hippocratic Collection as a whole do not unequivocally oppose the collaboration of physicians in abortion or voluntary euthanasia. In fact, that body of authoritative medical writings furnished no unified ideological opposition to such practices. I shall further suggest that this absence of opposition by the Hippocratics and most other pre-Christian medical sects can be partly understood as the result of a pluralistic philosophical climate in which no philosophical school succeeded in persuading the educated public that abortion and voluntary euthanasia were morally wrong. In fact, as we have seen, philosophers themselves were split on these is

-173-

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Medical Ethics in the Ancient World
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents ix
  • Illustrations xv
  • Preface xvii
  • Acknowledgments xxi
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - The Social and Scientific Setting 9
  • 1: The Status of the Physician 11
  • 2: Theories of Health and Disease 27
  • 3: Attitudes Toward Death 50
  • Part II - The Rise of Medical Ethics 69
  • 4: Who Was Hippocrates? 71
  • 5: The Hippocratic Oath 83
  • Part III - Abortion and Euthanasia 113
  • 6: The Problem of Abortion 115
  • 7: The Problem of Euthanasia 147
  • 8: The Physicians Moral Responsibility 173
  • Conclusion 185
  • Epilogue 195
  • Appendix A - Principles of Medical Ethics 225
  • Appendix B - A Patient S Bill of Rights 227
  • Appendix C - Declaration of Geneva 230
  • Appendix D - Code for Nurses 231
  • Appendix E - Animal Use in Biomedical Research 233
  • Appendix F - Historical Chronology: Ancient Medicine and Culture 236
  • Select Bibliography 239
  • Index 251
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