First Do No Harm

Is it no longer true?

Tucked into the corner of your mind reserved for random facts you probably have a vague memory that doctors take a Hippocratic oath. You may recall this phrase from it: “First, do no harm.” That oath, originally involving doctors, patients and God and in use for many years, is an antique that now is frequently replaced by one that oozes woke social justice more than it does good medical care. Actually, the updated words form a statement rather than an oath, as the modern medical establishment is highly uncomfortable with the idea of God, who was present in the classical version.

When danger threatens, we tend to elevate certain professions whose members keep us safe, for example the military, firefighters, police, doctors and nurses. This is a deserved honor. However a noble occupation does not necessarily attract only noble people.

We can easily see that a firefighter who is also an arsonist represents a bad apple. His fascination with flames led to his career choice, but it also led to criminal behavior. A policeman who uses his badge to belligerently bully citizens, similarly, needs to be removed. We run into trouble, however, when we try to define when a doctor or nurse goes off the path of virtue.

While we’d all like to think that our doctors and nurses have our best interests at heart and would do us no harm, who should define what harm means? Increasingly, medical personnel with strong, traditional beliefs are being asked to participate in surgeries and treatments that they believe are morally repugnant and harmful to their patients. They are being pushed to one of two choices; either betray their values or be sidelined from their profession (or desired profession—it is getting harder and harder to be accepted into medical school or to complete it without being faced with ethical dilemmas).

The difficult areas cluster around sexuality and death. After all, we don’t allow healthy people to demand that a doctor gouge out their eyes or cuts off their ears. Yet, our current social milieu says that lopping off healthy breasts or injecting a deathly solution into a healthy baby in utero is a protected right. A healer who dreamed of working with those suffering from diseases like cancer or diabetes or ailments like broken limbs or burn damage, might discover that if he won’t participate in elective abortions, gender-change operations or removing basic support such as hydration, from elderly or disabled patients, then he has no place in medicine.

This path is dangerous. Do we really want to encourage and entice healers to turn off their moral compasses? Past abuses by medical personnel should cause us to greatly pause. I generally shy away from references to Nazi Germany, but I think it is important to note that physicians were disproportionately active in the Nazi regime.

Granted, one person’s morality isn’t another’s. But the system was working quite well until medicine got entangled in social and political trends. Do we really want to say, “Religious individuals need not apply,” when it comes to medicine? That is, de facto, what we are doing.

Courts may rule that a patient should be disconnected from life-sustaining machines or that he receives no sustenance via an IV, but the judge or lawyer is not the one pulling the plug or standing helplessly by the bed. That is done by someone who most likely undertook his or her profession in order to nurture life.

An eighteen-year-old may legally choose to have healthy body parts cut off or taken out, but a nurse who is horrified at that choice might be assigned to assist in that surgery. It is not unreasonable that she sees this as harming the patient. When there was a draft, the military allowed conscientious objector status. Shouldn’t medical professionals be allowed a similar declaration? However, even that solution is problematic. At the moment, in many places, voicing opposition or asking to be removed from a case labels you as intolerant and a bad person. Eventually, people will keep their mouths shut or find other professions.

Many once respected professions, such as journalism or teaching are widely viewed now with suspicion verging on contempt, and this reaction is well-deserved. There are certainly good and noble individuals in those arenas, but the professions are tainted. Medicine is dangerously following that trend. While we can get our news and even education from alternate sources, medicine is in a different category. We are already seeing the damage done when medicine is politicized and loses our respect.

Virginia parents, among others, reacted strongly and courageously when they realized their children were being harmed by the policies rampant in schools. Similar policies have been in place for years in higher education, causing much damage. Why was the outcry previously limited to just a few? Only when it filtered down to grade school, right in front of people’s eyes, was there a revolt. By the time most of us need a doctor or hospital, only to discover that our assumptions of competence, training and care have been misplaced as a new crop of nurses and doctors replaces older providers, we may find ourselves with no good options.


What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments on this Susan’s Musing article.
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Announcing the Release of Unit 2!

Our journey continues as Rabbi Daniel Lapin provides access to God’s deeper meaning in the Bible by exploring the letters and words of the Lord’s Language.

Join Rabbi Daniel Lapin as he guides you through your inspiring adventure in Genesis 2:4-24, decoding the original Hebrew text, verse-by-verse, through the scintillating lens of ancient Jewish wisdom.

Unit 2 of Scrolling through Scripture focuses on what appears to be a repetition of the Creation tale. It includes the following:

  • Why there seem to be two accounts of Creation.
  • How spelling “mistakes” in the Bible reveal coded material.
  • Why dismissing duplicate language like “eat, you shall eat” as poetic, misses the point.
  • The spiritual source of many of our physical problems.
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Despite all our labor-saving devices, we never seem to have enough time. Rabbi Daniel Lapin reveals how the holiday of Chanuka illuminates two competing visions of time – that of ancient Greece and that of ancient Israel. Thousands of years later, how we choose between those two ways of thinking impacts every facet of our lives.

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