Missing Hippocrates
The New Medicine: Life and Death After Hippocrates,by Nigel M. de S. Cameron (Crossway, 187 pp.; $11.95, paper). Reviewed by Mark A. Home, contributing editor to Legacy Communications and coauthor with George Grant of Unnatural Affections: The Impuritan Ethic of Homosexuality and the Modern Church.

Margaret Mead, the famous anthropologist, once pointed out that the Hippocratic Oath marked “one of the turning points in the history of man,” because “there was made a complete separation between killing and curing. Throughout the primitive world the doctor and the sorcerer tended to be one and the same person.”

Nigel Cameron uses Mead’s observation as the starting point for his discussion of the consequences of modern medicine’s abandonment of the Hippocratic Oath. He contends that “it is a fundamental misreading of the history and nature of medicine to regard it as capable of surviving the revolutionary value-changes which are now in progress.”

When it was first formed in classical Greece, the Hippocratic Oath set down an ethic that was antithetical to the then commonly accepted practices of abortion, infanticide, and suicide (or “euthanasia” as it would be called today). Cameron points out that the oath’s opposition to the prevailing culture of its time does not undermine its relevance for today, but increases it.

The Hippocratic Oath was a manifesto for reform. It defined the physician as one who healed. It is no accident that Hippocratism spread throughout the West at the same time medicine became a recognized profession. It did this by making certain moral principles an essential part of medicine. Thus, Cameron argues it is impossible for medicine to continue as a recognized profession if no one can be sure ...

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