Ethics, Law, and Medical Practice

By Kerry J. Breen; Vernon D. Plueckhahn et al. | Go to book overview

1
INTRODUCTION TO ETHICAL PRINCIPLES IN MEDICINE

Codes or statements of ethical principles have existed to guide medical practitioners for almost 2500 years. Their purposes are to ensure the community receives the highest standards of care and to prevent doctors abusing the trust and power granted to them by the community. The basis for the principles contained in the modern codes originated in Greece through what is usually termed the Hippocratic Oath. Hippocrates was born on the island of Kos in 460 BC and was responsible for the beginnings of a scientific approach to medicine through his teaching and practice of medicine in Greece. He forthrightly rejected the magic and sorcery of the priest healers of the Asklepeion school. Hippocrates' teachings covered all branches of medicine and included the moral and ethical requirements of an ideal physician which were subsequently epitomised in the Hippocratic Oath. His writings are collected into the Corpus Hippocraticum which comprises 70 books, many of which were probably written by his disciples many years after his death.1

The similarity of the principles which are enunciated in the Hippocratic Oath to those of the codes and statements now promulgated by the World Medical Association and the Australian Medical Association (see Appendix I) is both remarkable and misleading; remarkable because the scope of medical practice has altered so greatly, and misleading, because it may imply that the principles of the Hippocratic Oath are immutable. Furthermore, the consistency of the ethical principles which have been handed down could reinforce a sense in the community that the principles were developed in isolation by the medical profession. This has never been the case, as the moral or ethical principles enunciated have always reflected the values of the communities in which the doctors practised at the time.

This chapter emphasises the key ethical principles of medical practice and

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