Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

A Comparative Study of the Foundations of Medical Ethics in Secular and Islamic Thought

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

A Comparative Study of the Foundations of Medical Ethics in Secular and Islamic Thought

Article excerpt


Medical knowledge has always been intertwined with human life.1 Human life in this world is not and will not be separated from disease and pain and their treatment. Just as medical knowledge has always been a part of humans' daily life, debates about medical ethics are also heated. Secular ethics emerged during the Renaissance and the beginning of the development of the West.2 Medical ethics were brought to the fore from the mid twentieth century after the event of certain unethical behaviors on the part of physicians (in particular, tests conducted on prisoners of war during the World War II). With the rise of individual rights and freedoms and given the modern philosophical attitudes, the principles of medical ethics were developed based on the philosophical attitudes of secular ideology.3 As the principles of bioethics and medical ethics are formed in a philosophical context,4 many discussions about medical ethics and its different branches are being presented in Western communities in the context of the philosophical foundations of the community and its various aspects. Although the principles of biomedical ethics appear to be general at first glance and to be acceptable from various perspectives, certain aspects of them are not reasonable according to some other societies. For example, M.S.T. Tai states that the Western principles of biomedical ethics are extrospective while the doctrines of Confucius are introspective. He further emphasizes the pivotal nature of the inner virtues of his acceptable ethics and believes any charter, principle, or law to be superficial without internal guidance. He then emphasizes another actuality; that is, the autonomy of the family against the individual in Eastern communities.5 The four principles of Beauchamp and Childress,6 however, remain fairly accommodating to the context of Islamic culture in Iran and are not in full contradiction with it.

In any healthcare setting, every patient is entitled to his "human dignity." The same respect for dignity holds for every Muslim healthcare provider, who has to deal with all his patients as a servant to God's servants, that is, rightly, justly, and with all his power, and who should try to treat the misfortunes of any of God's servants regardless of their religion, race, age and gender to the best of his abilities. There is no confrontation between Islam and the West in this respect; yet, there remain cultural differences that are absolutely acceptable in "particular ethics", and which do not negate "common morality".

The attitude of mankind toward his surroundings, and more accurately, his worldview, thoroughly affect the various aspects of his life. A person 's worldview underlies all his or her decisions. In Monotheistic Worldview, Mortaza Motahari writes, "Religion and the philosophy of life are inevitably based on the belief in and the perception and assessment of existence and also on the interpretation and analysis of the world. The view of a school of thought about the world and the existence constitutes a ' worldview ' ... All religions, schools of thought and social philosophies rely on some kind of a worldview. The objectives a school offers and calls its followers to pursue, the ways that it determines the do's and don'ts that it is composed of and the responsibilities that it creates for its followers all are the essential outcomes of the worldview it offers."7 Worldview is a general, and in some cases, philosophical, view of mankind and his surrounding world that guides his life plan. The principles of ethics in the two schools of thought under study are examined from three aspects, namely, their ontological foundations, their perspective on humans (anthropology), and the components of their epistemological foundations.

Examining the foundations of secular ethics

The word "secular" has had several definitions in the course of its historical development. "A key refinement in [the] literature is the recognition of the diversity of expressions of secularism. …

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