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Hippocratic, Religious, and Secular Medical Ethics

The Points of Conflict

Robert M. Veatch

Publication Year: 2012

Where should physicians get their ethics? Professional codes such as the Hippocratic Oath claim moral authority for those in a particular field, yet according to medical ethicist Robert Veatch, these codes have little or nothing to do with how members of a guild should understand morality or make ethical decisions. While the Hippocratic Oath continues to be cited by a wide array of professional associations, scholars, and medical students, Veatch contends that the pledge is such an offensive code of ethics that it should be summarily excised from the profession. What, then, should serve as a basis for medical morality?

Building on his recent contribution to the prestigious Gifford Lectures, Veatch challenges the presumption that professional groups have the authority to declare codes of ethics for their members. To the contrary, he contends that role-specific duties must be derived from ethical norms having their foundations outside the profession, in religious and secular convictions. Further, these ethical norms must be comprehensible to lay people and patients. Veatch argues that there are some moral norms shared by most human beings that reflect a common morality, and ultimately it is these generally agreed-upon religious and secular ways of knowing—thus far best exemplified by the 2005 Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights—that should underpin the morality of all patient-professional relations in the field of medicine.

Hippocratic, Religious, and Secular Medical Ethics is the magnum opus of one of the most distinguished medical ethicists of his generation.

Published by: Georgetown University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

List of Tables

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pp. vii

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xiii

This book has developed out of my 2008 contribution to the Gifford Lectures, a lecture series that dates back to Scottish lawyer and jurist Adam Lord Gifford’s bequest in 1887 establishing funds for lectures at four Scottish universities (Edinburgh, Glasgow, St. Andrews, and Aberdeen). The series, now having taken place for more than 120 years, has itself become something of a phenomenon. ...

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Introduction: The Hippocratic Problem

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pp. 1-9

The Hippocratic Oath often commands the status of a timeless, universal moral code for physicians and other health practitioners. A widespread assumption exists that the Oath is an uncontroversial moral code for the practice of medicine at any time or place under which physicians pledge that they will always work for the ...

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CHAPTER 1 The Hippocratic Oath and the Ethic of Hippocratism

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pp. 10-29

Regardless of the modern widespread acceptance of the Hippocratic Oath as an uncontroversial, platitudinous statement with universal application, its origins are more eccentric. It is associated with the Hippocratic school of medicine in ancient Greece, one among many competing medical schools of thought. Its adherents ...

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CHAPTER 2 The Hippocratic Tradition: A Sporadic Retreat

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pp. 30-66

Although there is evidence of the Hippocratic school in ancient Greece (Hippocrates is mentioned in Plato), it was not the dominant Greek school of medical thought.1 Others prevailed alongside it. Thus, when some follower of Hippocrates created an oath named in his honor, it is reasonable to assume the Oath applied, at most, only to one among ...

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CHAPTER 3 The Cacophony of Codes in Medical Schools and Professional Associations

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pp. 67-80

One point of contact between the physician and various professional codes (the Hippocratic and its alternatives) is in the ritual of oath taking that occurs in medical schools. Long part of the stereotype of medical education, the image of graduating medical students standing, raising their right hands, and reciting in unison ...

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CHAPTER 4 The Limits of Professionally Generated Ethics

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pp. 81-102

The Hippocratic ethical tradition and the other professionally generated codes of medical ethics that have arisen as alternatives leave the world of medical ethics with a very unsatisfying set of options. One could attempt to revise the Oath. As we have seen, many medical schools have attempted that but have failed to achieve a satisfying revision. Alternatively, a new ...

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CHAPTER 5 Religious Medical Ethics: Revealed and Natural Alternatives

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pp. 103-136

If Hippocratic and other professionally generated codes of medical ethics fail to provide an adequate moral foundation for physicians who are not Pythagoreans—that is, for physicians who are simultaneously members of some non-Hippocratic religious or secular community with a worldview expressing a moral perspective—then the two obvious alternatives for professionals ...

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CHAPTER 6 Secular Ethics and Professional Ethics

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pp. 137-158

In the previous chapter we saw that religious moral epistemologies come in two forms: revealed and naturally knowable religious ethics. Those professionals and patients who accept one or another form of revealed religion should find themselves with a set of commitments that they believe should provide the bedrock of morality for their choices. Other traditions that have religious grounding claim that their ...

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CHAPTER 7 Fallibilism and the Convergence Hypothesis

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pp. 159-192

I see no hope for the Hippocratic ethic or similar professional ethics. The Hippocratic ethic is dead. Some alternative foundation for a medical ethic is needed. One option for those laypeople and professionals who accept religiously mediated sources of revelation—via scripture or direct mystical communication from the deity to some individual human—is for laypeople who believe they have a source of divine ...

APPENDIX: Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights

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pp. 193-201


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pp. 203-218


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pp. 219-234


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pp. 235-242

E-ISBN-13: 9781589019478
E-ISBN-10: 1589019474
Print-ISBN-13: 9781589019461
Print-ISBN-10: 1589019466

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2012