Medical Ethics: an Inclusice History

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Medical Ethics: An Inclusive History

As long as there has been some form of medical treatment in the world, there has been someone who has voiced their ethical viewpoints on the treatment of patients. It is difficult to trace back the very first ethical thinking in medicine, but Islamic and Muslim traditions have left their footprints in Medical and Bioethics since before the medieval and early modern period. The first piece of literature ever dedicated to the field of medical ethics was written in the 9th Century by Ishaq bin Ali Rahawi and was titled Adab al-Tabib or Conduct of a Physician. Ali Rahawi reffered to physicians as guardians of the soul and body. One of the features in medieval Muslim medicine that separated their practices from their colleagues was their higher standards of medical ethics. Hospitals of the Islamic world made it their duty to treat patients regardless of their wealth, religious, and ethnic backgrounds. Even the Islamic hospitals employed staff from Christian, Jewish and other marginal backgrounds. After reading a portion of Conduct of a Physician I came across this passage which is in some way the Islamic for of the Hippocratic Oath (Howard, 1997).

“Scientists are accountable to God for their activities, they are required both to serve the community and to protect and promote its ethical and moral institutions. The way they use science, therefore, must reflect the values of the society they seek to serve. Thus, the Quranic approach to science is at once dynamic and static: it promotes reason, objectivity and the pursuit of truth and excellence, but at the same time, it places this endeavour firmly within the boundaries of Islamic ethics and values..” – Ishaq bin Ali Rahawi

Evident in this passage, it is easy to see the importance of the pursuit of knowledge in Islamic tradition. This is not to say that this knowledge is submissive to the Qur’an and its values. According to the Qur’an, those who possess knowledge united with faith and practice, are promised good rewards along with high rank in the medical field. Islamic science is the practical knowledge that produces results and leads to virtue (The Message of the Qur'an, 2008). The Conduct of a Physician includes what the phyisican must avoid and be aware of, the manners that visitors must demonstrate, the dignity of the medical profession, the examining and removal of corruption among physicians. The Muslim physician who worked closely with Ali Rahawi, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi did much to personalize medicine by taking into consideration the patient's problems and attitudes. He believed that the doctor’s aim was to do good even to our enemies, even more so our friends. The profession and the work that goes along with it forbids us to do harm to our loved ones because it is instituted for the benefit and welfare of the human race. Al-Razi stressed that doctors did not have the answers to all medical problems and could not heal all sickness and disease. To become more useful and to make the best ethical decisions, he advises physicians to keep up with advanced knowledge and to study medical books and expose themselves to new cases. He also states that the physician should not be blamed when he is unable to cure diseases such as cancer or leprosy because this makes it even more difficult to treat patients in the future (İskenderoğlu, 2002).

Throughout time, there have been numerous cases and figures who have contributed in numerous ways to the development of our modern healthcare codes and ethics. The first of these men was Immanuel Kant who developed his idea of Kantian Ethics which is used to argue for the right to healthcare. The basis behind his ethics is that everyone has an intrinsic worth and dignity which should never be tarnished. From this arose his idea of duties which according to Kant, is what gives rise to our rights and determines what we can demand of others. Because of this duty, everybody has the right...
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