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November 12, 1982

V. The 'Old Code' of Medical Ethics and Some Problems It Had to Face

Author Affiliations

From the Morris Fishbein Center, University of Chicago.

JAMA. 1982;248(18):2329-2333. doi:10.1001/jama.1982.03330180079046

The National Medical Convention, meeting in 1846, wanted a single code of medical ethics that would apply to all the states. The committee appointed to draw up such a code made its report in 1847 with a formulation that was quickly accepted and then remained unchanged until 1903. In the report, which contained the whole elaborate code, an introductory section, signed by John Bell of Philadelphia, reveals quite strikingly the problems facing the medical profession. It lets us glimpse the rationale behind the specific exhortations, and the scope of "medical ethics."

Even a cursory reading makes us realize the low esteem in which the public held the medical profession at that time. Thus, Bell noted that while physicians have duties, they also have corresponding rights. One of these is the "right to be attentively and respectfully listened to." The physician is entitled "to, at least, the same respectful and considerate