Medical Codes of Ethics (Magill’s Medical Guide, Sixth Edition)
Western civilization has long held the writings of the fifth century b.c.e. Greek physician Hippocrates, and in particular the Hippocratic oath, as a model of ethical values to be followed in the medical profession. As the nature of Western civilization itself has changed over the centuries, interpretations of the ethical values behind the Hippocratic oath have also changed. The circumstances of modern medical practice and ethical values, however, have ironically made certain elements of the classical Hippocratic tradition even more relevant than they may have appeared in previous eras.
In fact, the Hippocratic oath is only the introductory section of the Corpus Hippocraticum (Hippocratic Collection) traditionally attributed to Hippocrates. (There is debate about whether he is the author of all the books or only some.) The actual medical observations of Hippocrates were studied and applied for many centuries, until scientific research rendered many of them recognizably obsolete. A number of sections of the corpus, however, reflect the Greek physician’s recurring concern for rules to guide the medical profession. Hippocrates’ chapters on “The Art,” “Decorum,” and “The Law” complement the more famous ethical precepts contained in the oath.
The first part of the oath itself covers the physician’s lifelong commitment to his or her teachers. This commitment extends not only to the symbolic...
(The entire section is 1305 words.)
Modern Applications (Magill’s Medical Guide, Sixth Edition)
Although neither the original nor edited versions of the Hippocratic oath are applied today as a condition for becoming a doctor, the medical profession in the United States has definitely formalized publication of what it considers to be a necessary code of medical ethics. Evolving versions of this “Code of Medical Ethics” date from the original (1847) text of the AMA as revised by specific decisions in 1903, 1912, and 1947.
When the AMA adopted a statement under the title “Guide to Responsible Professional Behavior” in 1980, it assigned to a formal body within its organization, the Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs, the task of publishing, on a yearly basis, updated paragraphs that reflect ethical guidelines for the profession as a whole. These evolving guidelines are organized under such subheadings as “Social Policy Issues,” “Interprofessional Relations,” “Hospital Relations,” “Confidentiality,” and “Fees and Charges.”
At the turn of the twenty-first century, the public’s growing uncertainty about a doctor’s role in a market-oriented health care delivery system and increasing mistrust in the face of malpractice suits prompted physicians to question their professional responsibilities and roles within modern medicine. In 2002, a joint effort between the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM), the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine...
(The entire section is 1843 words.)
Perspective and Prospects (Magill’s Medical Guide, Sixth Edition)
Despite the introduction of certain legal precedents that tried to protect both physicians and their patients against dilemmas stemming from the assumed immutable ethical principles of the Hippocratic oath, society continues to witness practical shortcomings in modern understanding of who needs to be protected and how such protection should be institutionalized.
Malpractice insurance offers legal protection to physicians against personal damage claims levied by aggrieved patients or those surviving deceased patients; by the late twentieth century in the United States, these rates had soared. The larger debate regarding whether what physicians have done in individual cases was right or wrong rests on the assumption that his or her judgment can be put to the test by private parties defending their rights against professional incompetence. Therefore, the issue, as well as the institutional and/or legal devices pursued to resolve it, lies beyond the strict realm of a patient’s privacy vis-à-vis a physician’s responsibilities.
More characteristic examples of the contemporary social-ethical dilemma of whether doctors are fulfilling their appropriate professional responsibilities in recognizing patients’ rights to certain types of treatment continue to fall into legally unresolved categories. The most obvious appears to be the ongoing debate concerning the legality of physician-assisted abortions. The...
(The entire section is 443 words.)
For Further Information: (Magill’s Medical Guide, Sixth Edition)
Campbell, Alistair V., Grant Gillett, and Gareth Jones. Medical Ethics. 4th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. A text that takes an interdisciplinary approach in examining major ethical questions in medical practice, including issues in genetics, prenatal and neonatal care, AIDS, mental health, geriatrics, and end-of-life care.
Casarett, David J., Frona Daskal, and John Lantos. “Experts in Ethics? The Authority of the Clinical Ethicist.” Hastings Center Report 28, no. 6 (November/December, 1998): 6-11. This article examines the work of Jurgen Habermas, which provides a basis for a model of clinical ethics consultation in which consensus, grounded in moral theory, assumes a central theoretical role.
Devine, Richard J. Good Care, Painful Choices: Medical Ethics of Ordinary People. 3d ed. New York: Paulist Press, 2004. An accessible survey of medical ethics for the layperson. Covers moral concepts such as personhood and conscience, abortion, genetics, organ transplants, end-of-life issues, and social health issues, including informed consent and health care access and reform.
Fletcher, John C., et al., eds. Introduction to Clinical Ethics. 3d ed. Hagerstown, Md.: University Publishing Group, 2005. This collection of essays by contributing writers addresses the topic of clinical ethics in contemporary medicine. Includes a bibliography.
(The entire section is 388 words.)