I was aware that the Hippocratic Oath had been revised so as no longer to proscribe abortion, but did you know that the Geneva Code has also been revised, to a similar effect?  In fact it proves hard to find the original, unamended version.  Look for the “Geneva Code” or “Geneva Declaration” on the internet, and you will find the amended version presented as if it is the original.

In 1948, in the immediate wake of the abuse of medicine in Nazi Germany (indeed physicians were at the very origin of the Holocaust), the World Medical Association promulgated the “Geneva Declaration” of medical ethics, which was stated as follows:

  • I solemnly pledge to consecrate my life to the service of humanity
  • I will give to my teachers the respect and gratitude which is their due;
  • I will practice my profession with conscience and dignity;
  • The health and life of my patient will be my first consideration;
  • I will respect the secrets which are confided in me;
  • I will maintain by all means in my power, the honor and the noble traditions of the medical profession;
  • My colleagues will be my brothers
  • I will not permit considerations of religion, nationality, race, party politics or social standing to intervene between my duty and my patient;
  • I will maintain the utmost respect for human life, from the time of its conception, even under threat, I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity;
  • I make these promises solemnly, freely and upon my honor.

I want you to pay attention particularly to the sixth point, about the “noble traditions” of the medical profession, and then consider whether those noble traditions have been maintained in the “amended” version of the Declaration, below (taken directly from the World Medical Association website), which is the form now used by official medical bodies and medical schools:

  • I SOLEMNLY PLEDGE to consecrate my life to the service of humanity;
  • I WILL GIVE to my teachers the respect and gratitude that is their due;
  • I WILL PRACTISE my profession with conscience and dignity;
  • THE HEALTH OF MY PATIENT will be my first consideration;
  • I WILL RESPECT the secrets that are confided in me, even after the patient has died;
  • I WILL MAINTAIN by all the means in my power, the honour and the noble traditions of the medical profession;
  • MY COLLEAGUES will be my sisters and brothers;
  • I WILL NOT PERMIT considerations of age, disease or disability, creed, ethnic origin, gender, nationality, political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, social standing or any other factor to intervene between my duty and my patient;
  • I WILL MAINTAIN the utmost respect for human life;
  • I WILL NOT USE my medical knowledge to violate human rights and civil liberties, even under threat;
  • I MAKE THESE PROMISES solemnly, freely and upon my honour.

The main change is that “I will maintain the utmost respect for human life from the time of its conception, even under threat” has been replaced by the lame and almost meaningless “I will maintain the utmost respect for human life.”  (“Human life, I salute you!”)

A correlated insidious change is from “The health and life of my patient will be my first consideration” to merely “The health of my patient will be my first consideration.”  This change too renders the assertion almost meaningless: An Epicurean would point out that if the patient is put to death, then there is no longer anyone’s health which needs to be considered.

The amended version’s additional asseveration, “I WILL NOT USE my medical knowledge to violate human rights and civil liberties, even under threat” is obviously meant to hide, or compensate for, those other changes.  But it fails to do so because, in leaving the claims of rights undetermined, it is relativistic, since it says, in effect, “if you or the jurisdiction in which you practice recognizes the right to life of the unborn child, then you should not do abortions, but otherwise there is no proscription.”

That is, the Declaration which originally made possible an appeal to humanity and to ethical principles based on humanity prior to human law  — that was its point; the Declaration was supposed to trump certain kinds of unjust laws and rule out certain unjust practices — now is thoroughly subject to human will and human law.

We can say definitively, then, that the Declaration as amended is incapable of playing the role of a code of medical ethics.