Doctors Under Oath
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 23 1995 issue of Christianity Today.
As the Oregon assisted-suicide law is contested in the courts and the "Kevorkian versus Michigan" legal marathon continues, we cannot forsake asking this critical question: What are physicians for?
Is medicine an industry, just another consumer-wants-satisfaction enterprise? In that case, doctors are technicians, and their customers can tell them precisely what to do. Or, is medicine something else? Maybe it is what we used to call a profession. A profession is a job, grounded on a professed moral vision, mutually accepted by its members, be they academics, lawyers, or whoever.
Americans still trust their doctors, generally speaking. But whether we are patients or physicians, we just cannot make up our minds: Do we want technicians who have a monopoly on key skills? Or do we want what we used to have—a vocation driven by moral vision?
Now is a good time to be reminded of the origins of the medical profession, because it started with these very questions. And unexpectedly, Hippocrates, the famous physician of antiquity, is in the news once again. Although almost nothing is known of his life and work, he gave birth to centuries of medical tradition in Western civilization.
Among recent developments, a group of distinguished doctors and ethicists, including some Christian leaders, have signed a modernized version of the famous oath. That may not be too much of a surprise, since Hippocrates was the father of all prolifers. On the twin life issues of abortion and euthanasia, he made the definitive statements: No, No.
More surprising has been the Russian Ministry of Health, which, in its search for a regrounding of medical values went back beyond the "Oath ...