I was recently asked to review The Nazi War on Cancer by Robert N. Proctor for Ideas on Liberty. What follows here is a more extended critique of this scholarly but deeply disturbing book.
It has been argued that secular (non-religious) individuals and organizations display highly moral standards without belief in god or religion. Admittedly, this is true as far as organizations, such as Doctors Without Borders, but not necessarily true of the individuals who actually do the work, many of them are quiet or religious people operating with compassion under religious morality. These humanitarians keep their religion to themselves, although they might be working under the umbrella of a secular organization.
In the course and development of Western culture, the Judeo-Christian and the Graeco-Roman heritages became inextricably entwined becoming the twin pillars of Western civilization that have withstood the test of time. With the Hebrew experience, the Ten Commandments, the Old Testament, man was seen as having free will and having the capacity to do good or evil — i.e., develop moral conduct, for which he would be rewarded or punished in the afterlife.
I read in the news with great jubilation that one-third of Georgia hospitals earned an "A" grade on patient safety. Overall, Georgia was rated at No. 10 "among states with the highest percentage of top-performing hospitals." Even more apropos, Middle Georgia was not left in the boondocks by Metro Atlanta. In Macon, both Coliseum Medical Centers and Coliseum Northside Hospital received "A" ratings for autumn 2015. Unfortunately, the Medical Center, Navicent Health, did not fare well and earned a "C" rating.
In medicine and surgery, traditional medical ethics have been based on the Oath of Hippocrates that has endured through the centuries because its precepts are patient-oriented — namely, that the first consideration of the physician is the needs of the individual patient. Doctors are sworn to do no harm and to advise and do what is in the best interest of their patients; third-party payers, insurers, society and the State are (or should be) secondary considerations.
Abstract — In discussing bioethics and the formulation of neuroethics, the question has arisen as to whether secular humanism should be the sole philosophical guiding light, to the exclusion of any discussion (or even mention) of religious morality, in professional medical ethics. In addition, the question has arisen as to whether freedom or censorship should be part of medical (and neuroscience) journalism.
This is the third volume of the monumental A History of Medicine series by the medical historian and classical scholar Plinio Prioreschi M.D., PhD. A limited number of these books were published, and the reader would be fortunate to find copies of the tomes for less than $350 U.S. dollars. We have already reviewed Volume I: Primitive and Ancient Medicine (2nd edition, 1995) and Volume II: Greek Medicine (2nd edition, 1996).[2,3] We found both of these tomes to be excellent journeys to the history of medicine (and indirectly medical ethics).
In our review of the first volume in this series we introduced the medical scholar Dr. Plinio Prioreschi, the author of this marvelous narrative of the history of medicine, and listed the composition of this series of tomes for the benefit of the readers. We do so again here for the same reason:
A History of Medicine — Volume I: Primitive and Ancient Medicine (2nd edition, 1995); 596 pages
Abstract — The search for longevity, if not for immortality itself, has been as old as recorded history. The great strides made in the standard of living and the advances in scientific medicine, have resulted in unprecedented increases in longevity, concomitant with improved quality of life.
The Story of Medicine by Victor Robinson, M.D. The New Home Library, New York; 1943. Bibliographical Notes, Indexed, 564 pages.
A Prelude to Medical History (1961) by Dr. Félix Martí-Ibáñez (1911-1972) is a short but interesting book on medical history based on a series of lectures to an entering class of medical students, who the author welcomes with excitement and jubilation. Martí-Ibáñez emphasizes such traits as greatness with humility and compassion with learning in medical ethics and the history of medicine. As foundations upon which to build the profession, he lists clinical practice, teaching, and research.
After talking with young neurosurgeons and residents around the world, they often ask "How do I know what I read is the truth?" I answered that question in a recent editorial.(1)
These photos show two physicians who exemplify the rule that if you are seeking ethical guidance, the medical profession is not the place to look. The first is Jack Kevorkian, MD, practitioner of euthanasia and forerunner of the Independent Payment Advisory Board. The second is Ezekiel Emanuel, MD, PhD, advocate of euthanasia, inventor of the Independent Payment Advisory Board, and major architect of ObamaCare.
For several decades, American bioethicists have been providing persuasive arguments for rationing medical care via the theory of the necessary "rational allocation of finite health care resources."(2) More recently, assisted by various sectors of organized medicine, they have developed multiple approaches to justify what they see as the necessary curtailment of services and specialized treatments deemed not medically necessary.
Abstract — In 2013, U.S. President Barack Obama decreed the creation of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, as part of his $100 million Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative. In the wake of the work of this Commission, the purpose, goals, possible shortcomings, and even dangers are discussed, and the possible impact it may have upon neuroscience ethics (Neuroethics) both in clinical practice as well as scientific research.
This interview resulted in the May 14, 2014 article, "U.S. Experts urge focus on ethics in brain research" by Kerry Sheridan, AFP Correspondent. The article was distributed through the NewsCred Smartwire, Agence France Presse.
Kerry Sheridan, Agence France-Presse (AFP): Hi Dr. Faria, I'm working on a story about calls for consideration of ethics in neuroscience research, and I was wondering if I could interview you about your thoughts on the need for ethical oversight in neuroscience?
With President Obama and his Democratic partisans in the Senate at loggerheads with the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives, an impasse has arisen of troubling proportions. The House, though, has the constitutional power of the purse, and the funding or defunding of the flawed ObamaCare law, unwanted by the vast majority American people, falls within its purview. The House has indeed the right not to fund a calamitous and burdensome law.
When I get a chance I read Viewpoints, the busy electronic version of the Macon Telegraph (MT), which frequently has heated discussions. On September 5, a discussion centered on a MT reader who stated that although in good health at age 75, his doctor would not perform a PSA test or a colonoscopy because "it was not needed" and besides "something else would kill me before colon or prostate cancer does [given his age]."
In his reply to my article, Dr. Miguel Faria, a very fine neurosurgeon and writer, states that it is unethical for physicians “to intrusively ask patients about the presence of guns in the home” and that by so doing, physicians become “snitches” against their own patients.
I agree that if the purpose of asking about guns is solely to report the possession of guns, and that if the physician asks “intrusively” and reports without the patient’s permission and in the absence of an imminent threat, it would be wrong.
It is the free mind and individual responsibility, the principles of the Renaissance that have brought us the wonders of modern health care through the free-market capitalist system and through the inventiveness of the free minds it has raised. It seems we are now going to harness the capitalist engine for rationing....
Medical efforts to prolong the lives of individuals afflicted with serious disease or injury began with primitive medicine, perhaps in the Neolithic Period (8000-3000 B.C.), when we discerned from paleontologic evidence a tendency for primitive men and women to care for the sick and wounded in the shelters provided by the deep caves of Europe.
Physicians classify diseases in a variety of ways. Clinical classifications are often made according to either the suddenness of onset or the expected prognosis. Diseases are considered acute if they develop suddenly and have a short clinical course. Chronic diseases, on the other hand, have a slow onset, indolent course, and long duration. They heal slowly if they improve at all.
Since the time of Hippocrates (460-370 B.C.), the Father of Medicine, physicians have traditionally subscribed to doing no harm and prescribed what is in the best interest of their individual patients; in other words, putting their patients first. This concept is known as individual-based ethics.
The new bioethics movement, on the other hand, subscribes to population-based ethics, in which physicians become obligated to make decisions for their patients in concert with what is in the best interest of society or the state.
In Part I of this article, I discussed a concept that is always on the mind of the socialist planner and that is "social utility." To fully understand this concept one has to understand the socialist philosophy, if it can indeed be called a philosophy — in general, philosophies are analytical.
In this modern era of moral relativism, where one can justify doing nearly anything to anyone, where does one turn for advice on ethics in medicine? Well, right here in the Medical Sentinel, of course, but what about those who have not yet discovered the AAPS?
The Hippocratic Oath — Is it relevant today or does it belong in the scrap heap of history’s discarded relics?
I submit it is relevant today. I submit it is a touchstone that offers a moral compass — an ethical framework — for navigation through these times of crisis. In short, it is the soul of medicine.
For 30 years, I have fought for the maintenance and restoration of medicine based on the Oath and ethics of Hippocrates.
The justification for the independent practice of medicine is so the physician remains beholden to his patients rather than the government or third-party payer.
Dear Dr. Faria,
Your review of Dr. Leo Alexander’s article, “Medical Science Under Dictatorship,” (“Euthanasia, Medical Science, and the Road to Genocide,” Medical Sentinel 1998;3(3):79-83) which [initially] appeared in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1949 was both stimulating and timely.
The October 2, 1996 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) was devoted to the theme of managed care. I wonder how many people noticed the title of the painting on the front cover? The painting is by Max Beckmann and is titled “The Sinking of The Titanic.” How fitting!