Taking the Hippocratic Oath Seriously
Death is upon us. "Us" being doctors. Matt Anderson
Illustration by Krieg Barrie
The death peddlers here and abroad seek to remove legal protection from pro-life doctors who refuse to perform abortion, refer for abortion, or participate in euthanasia. Euphemisms like "reproductive freedom," the "right to choose," and "death with dignity" justify the assault on our patient's lives and our rights of conscience. But in the midst of this inversion of right and wrong, pro-life doctor groups worldwide are banding together to form a Hippocratic Registry of Physicians.
Admittedly, physicians were not always healers. Millennia ago, healers used their power and status in society to kill and otherwise take advantage of the weak and helpless. Hippocrates, or someone like him, recognized the problem, and that is how we came to have the oath the public thinks we doctors all take, the Oath of Hippocrates.
Of course, we doctors don't take Hippocrates' Oath any longer and haven't for decades. New doctors recite a much changed charge filled with superficial, contemporary language, if they recite anything at all. Hippocrates' Oath has been relegated to the dustbin of modern ethical thought. "I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly, I will not give a woman an abortive remedy," it reads.
The legalization of abortion in America meant the Oath was out. But even with abortion legalized, pro-life physicians could still practice according to their consciences. The American College of OB/GYN, however, threw down the gauntlet in November 2007 with its Ethics Statement No. 385, which defined any OB/GYN doctor who did not perform or refer for abortion as unethical. The American Board of OB/GYN quickly followed with a new requirement that an OB/GYN doctor had to agree with the ethics of the College to pass the OB/GYN boards. Washington state and Oregon have declared euthanasia (assisted suicide) a legal activity in their states. Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics at Princeton, advocates infanticide when he writes, "killing a disabled infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Very often it is not wrong at all."
So, how do I respond to this challenge to my rights of conscience as a pro-life OB/GYN physician in this age? If my rights of conscience are legislated away, how long before the state revokes my license to practice medicine for refusing to perform or refer for abortion? How long before admission to medical school requires a promise to support death? (Get rid of those troublesome pro-lifers at the front end.)
This Hippocratic Registry of Physicians encourages me. The group includes doctors of any faith who value life and the tenets of Hippocrates' Oath. Although in its infancy, one could imagine a similar registry of other medical organizations such as hospitals, nursing homes, hospice organizations, pharmacies—a literal competing health-care system that honors life.
As our society "advances" to barbarisms abandoned millennia ago, I pray Hippocrates' idea will again catch fire and people will once again seek care from doctors with whom their life is safe and sacred—no matter what.
—Matt Anderson is a practicing OB/GYN in Minnesota and blogs regularly at mdviews.wordpress.com; more information on the Hippocratic Registry of Physicians is available at HTTP://hippocraticregistry.com