Historic Medical Ethics vs. Modern Bioethics

Me

Historic medical ethics has as its core principle the “sanctity of life.” About 2500 years ago, a Greek physician named Hippocrates codified reverence for life in an oath which prohibited physicians from deliberately killing patients and charged them “to do no harm.” Until recent times, physicians have sworn this oath upon graduation from medical school. Medical ethics, based on the Hippocratic Oath, has always obliged physicians to protect and preserve their patients’ lives and never to kill.

Modern Bioethics, which emerged in the 1960’s, has as its core principle the “quality of life.” Bioethics influences all areas of medical care. Most bioethicists today embrace a utilitarian view of human life: a human life burdened by advanced years, serious illness, or special needs is not worth living/a waste of resources. For example, in 1993, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, who would later be the chief architect of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare), wrote, “Increasingly it will be our collective determination as to what lives are worth living that will decide how incompetent patients are treated.” [American Journal of Medicine, 1/1993, Vol.  94, p. 115]