It may surprise you to know that most qualifying doctors in the UK never takes the ‘Hippocratic Oath’. Although it’s principles underlie much of the modern medical practice, it’s a little outdated. For example, we don’t ‘teach medicine to only the sons of doctors’ anymore and no others (e.g. no women).* Which is not to say ethics is ignored in the UK medical curriculum- in fact very much the opposite. I would say ethics and law formed perhaps as much as 15% of the undergraduate course at my medical school and at least 20% of the clinical side, not to mention underpinning every patient discussion and clinical decision besides.
The overriding principles of medical ethics are fourfold; 1) Autonomy 2) Beneficience (Do the best for your patient) 3) Non-maleficience (Do no harm) and 4) Justice (treat all patients fairly). I have been watching very closely events in Gaza over the past week, on social media as well as mainstream news, and given the above, am appalled at some of the attitudes my colleagues have.
First off, to date, over 150 civilians have died, with as much as a third of that number children. If you are asking “Children from where?” – then ask yourself “Are you a human being?” And then stop reading this blog because I have no time for you.
They are children. There is nothing in international law, the Geneva convention, the Bible or Torah or Qu’ran, or basic, human morality that justifies the murder of children in the name of ‘defence’. **
I have seen on social media colleagues who lambast ‘liberal’ critics of Israel saying they ‘do not know what it is like to live under existential threat’. Let me be very clear, there is nothing ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ about the views on the death of children by military attack. To use those terms implies a nuanced political argument about the death toll; ‘liberals’ would like less children to die, ‘conservatives’ are more pragmatic and accept a higher toll. In the 21st century to sit and debate whether civilian casualties are deemed ‘acceptable’ is abhorrent and appalling.
Maybe I don’t understand the unilateral support for any state regardless of it’s actions. I grew up in Britain, a country renowned for it’s continuous dismay and critique of it’s own government, in a countryside town as the only brown face in a sea of white. The only sense of tribalism I have ever encountered is as a doctor- the ‘tribe’ of the MBBS has it’s own vernacular, it’s own set of values, it’s own unique perspective on humanity and it’s own rigorous ethical code. Which is why I cannot understand doctors who put out statements in support of any military action, but especially those that have had such high civilian death tolls. The value of life to a doctor is his or her entire meaning – if they didn’t want to preserve and defend life from illness and suffering they wouldn’t have signed up. But we have a duty to apply those same principles to every part of our life. We must not only ‘do no harm’ to the patient in front of us, but be champions of that humanitarianism across the board- on social media, to our friends, to our families, to our Governments.
Evil only persists in this world when good people do nothing. I cannot imagine a stereotype closer to ‘good people’ than a doctor. Colleagues, please, live up to it.
*(in fact the majority of junior doctors and medical students now are women).
** The international law surrounding self-defense against occupied territory is very complex and makes for an interesting read if you feel like reading something important. See below;