The Scottish Enlightenment is widely appreciated for its contributions to philosophy, economics, sociology, law, chemistry, and medicine. The ideas and theories advanced by Hume, Smith, Millar, and Ferguson are still widely debated. John Gregory (1724–1773), important in his own time, is not as well known as some of his friends and colleagues. He was professor of medicine at the University of Edinburgh from 1766 to 1773, where he taught introductory lectures on the theory and practice of medicine. A set of extensive student notes from these lectures, entitled Observations on the Duties and Offices of a Physician, appeared anonymously in 1770. Two years later, Gregory himself published a revised version of his lectures under the title Lectures on the Duties and Qualifications of a Physician. These two books are said to mark the beginnings of professional medical ethics in the English-speaking world. They are also sometimes characterized as having anticipated bioethics.
McCullough’s comprehensive John Gregory and the Invention of Professional Medical Ethics and the Profession of Medicine is the first modern intellectual biography of Gregory. Based on extensive research into eighteenth-century institutional context and the study of hitherto unknown manuscripts, he gives a full account of Gregory’s education at Edinburgh and Leiden, and his practice and teaching of medicine at Aberdeen, London, and Edinburgh. He stresses the importance of Gregory’s membership in the Aberdeen Philosophical Society and his close contact with Mrs. Montagu and her Circle for the understanding of his medical ethics. McCullough also shows that Bacon’s experimental method had a decisive influence on Gregory. Gregory took over Bacon’s three offices or ends of medicine: preservation of health, prolonging of life, and curing of diseases. In 1772, perhaps anticipating his premature death from hereditary gout, he added a fourth office, namely easing the pain of dying. Gregory referred mainly to Bacon (and Reid) in his Lectures to make clear how we can enlarge our medical knowledge by the method of experience and observation, pointing out that the progress of medicine had been seriously retarded by the way in which it was taught since Hippocrates. He also thought it was handicapped by the view that only professionals [End Page 535] should practice it, and claimed that even quacks have their advantages because their interest and reputation seldom suffer from the failure of the experiments necessary for the improvement of the medical profession.
Gregory also argued that we should regard medicine not as a trade but as an art. In this context the principle of sympathy (or humanity) became important for him. Sympathy was the basis of the central duties in his Lectures. In a time of extreme instability of manners, when medicine was regarded more as a trade than an art, there was no physician-patient relationship based on the epistemological and moral authority of the physician. According to McCullough, it was Gregory who created “the physician-patient relationship as fiduciary. The virtues of the physician as fiduciary—openness to conviction, tenderness, and steadiness—provided for him the moral causes that would gather physicians together into a group worthy of the name, ‘profession,’ in its intellectual and moral senses” (265). The physician should no longer view his patients as moral strangers.
McCullough claims that Gregory’s medical ethics is not just of historical interest, providing bioethics with its own history. It is also of interest for contemporary discussions in medical ethics. Many believe that the physician and the sick are “‘equal,’ as well as wary, competitive, interested strangers to each other” (288). McCullough argues that Gregory’s theory represents a pre-modern form of paternalism, which demands that the physician must be trustworthy. Through...