October 21, 1974

Be Your Own Philosopher

JAMA. 1974;230(3):443. doi:10.1001/jama.1974.03240030061033

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Contrary to prevailing impression, medicine's concern with ethical problems is not a by-product of recent advances in medical knowledge and skills. True, problems such as allotment of a limited organ supply among the many in need of a transplant or deciding to terminate an artificially sustained life did not exist in the past, but abortion, euthanasia, and other issues have always presented dilemmas. Some of these, such as the decision to save the life of a mother or the newborn, were even more frequent than they are now, when medical treatment makes it possible to save both.

Confronted with ethical dilemmas, the physician of bygone days would generally follow familiar guidelines provided by the canons of his faith. Practically every religious denomination had its ready answers to the then existing problems. Sometimes answers might conflict with those of other denominations, sometimes they would accord. In the latter case, similar conclusions