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A never-heard point in what has become the political circus of the battle over Terri Schiavo is the doctor’s role and responsibility. We know what both legal sides think, the Senate is split down party lines (sort of), and those who oppose re-inserting the feeding tube are essentially calling those who support it “right-wing conspirators.” I wasn’t aware that valuing life above all else constituted a particular political view, but then again, I suppose I’ve been duped by the conspirators in their evil plot to force-feed a woman in a “persistent vegetative state.” After all, she wouldn’t have wanted any of this because her estranged husband told the court that she said so (and I always thought hearsay was inadmissible in court).
I would hardly consider a feeding tube “life support.” By this logic, if I broke both of my arms and couldn’t feed myself, my wife having to spoon-feed me would be “life support.” She should be able to be rid of me so she can marry a man with two working arms. If Terri was a ten year-old, would we even be having this “discussion?” Why don’t children have a “right to die” (once they’re outside of the womb of course)? Liberals continue to confuse the issue. They approve of abortion on-demand, but want to keep criminals on death row alive. Since Terri had the misfortune of committing no capital crimes, she gets to die an agonizing two week-long (or more) death as her body, not able to get sustenance from food and fat, starts going after body parts for fuel. Even criminals who are sent to execution get a final meal and a quick death. Terri gets neither. But not to worry, “Terri is stable, peaceful and calm.” Or so says Michael Schiavo’s lawyer, George Felos. How does he know since she is in a “persistent vegetative state”?
Anyway, I began this article by asking what the doctor’s role is in all of this. Don’t doctors not take an oath to uphold and value life—The Hippocratic Oath? This prompted me to do some research. I found a modern version of the Oath that was written in 1964. This version is used extensively in medical schools today, and was probably the one that was recited by Terri Schiavo’s doctors. Read it below. The classical version follows right after it. Read these two side by side.
Hippocratic Oath—Modern Version
I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:
I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.
I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures which are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.
I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.
I will not be ashamed to say "I know not," nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.
I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.
I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.
I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.
I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.
If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.
Hippocratic Oath—Classical Version
I swear by Apollo Physician and Asclepius and Hygieia and Panaceia and all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will fulfill according to my ability and judgment this oath and this covenant:
To hold him who has taught me this art as equal to my parents and to live my life in partnership with him, and if he is in need of money to give him a share of mine, and to regard his offspring as equal to my brothers in male lineage and to teach them this art – if they desire to learn it—without fee and covenant; to give a share of precepts and oral instruction and all the other learning to my sons and to the sons of him who has instructed me and to pupils who have signed the covenant and have taken an oath according to the medical law, but no one else.
I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice.
I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art.
I will not use the knife, not even on sufferers from stone, but will withdraw in favor of such men as are engaged in this work.
Whatever houses I may visit, I will come for the benefit of the sick, remaining free of all intentional injustice, of all mischief and in particular of sexual relations with both female and male persons, be they free or slaves.
What I may see or hear in the course of the treatment or even outside of the treatment in regard to the life of men, which on no account one must spread abroad, I will keep to myself, holding such things shameful to be spoken about.
If I fulfill this oath and do not violate it, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and art, being honored with fame among all men for all time to come; if I transgress it and swear falsely, may the opposite of all this be my lot.
There is no further proof needed that post-modernism has left the pages of the philosophy textbook and entered the culture. The Hippocratic Oath is apparently just like the Constitution—a “living” document that has become a dead document. When the original oath could no longer be twisted to fit a more “enlightened” moral context, it was scrapped altogether. Think about that the next time you trust your life to today’s “medical gods.” The modern oath is a prime example of social Darwinism put into practice. Ideas truly do have consequences. Only a Christian worldview can consistently explain caring for the sick and the helpless. Christians need to be entering this field en masse in order to take back this high calling in obedience to Matthew 25:40. Maybe then we’ll have doctors who follow their consciences enlightened by God’s word instead of some judge’s arbitrary ruling. Let Judge Greer remove the feeding tube himself next time.