Committee Opinion 1

Professional Ethics Committee of AAPLOG

Hippocratic Objection to Killing Human Beings in Medical Practice

“On some positions, cowardice asks the question: Is it safe? Expediency asks the question: Is it politic? Vanity asks the question: is it popular? But conscience asks the question: Is it right?

“And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic nor popular, but he must take it, because conscience tells him it is right”


Fundamental to the unique physician-patient relationship is the concept of a fiduciary relationship – the trust that the patient has in her physician, who has greater knowledge, to do the best for her. This trust is based on the patient’s belief that her physician will act at all times on her behalf to make professional judgements about treatments and recommendations which will, in the doctor’s best judgement, bring her the least harm. That trust stems from the patient’s belief that the physician has taken a professional vow, by all that the physician holds sacred, to first do her no harm. That vow, the Hippocratic Oath, is the basis of the doctor-patient relationship. Recent concerted attempts to use punitive legal coercion to force health care professionals to participate in or perform the killing of their patients has resulted in a need to clearly again articulate the fundamental tenets of Hippocratic Medicine, which explicitly separates medical care from the intentional killing of human beings. It is because the health care professional has bound herself or himself to do and not to do certain things prescribed or prohibited in the Hippocratic Oath, that the patient can trust that the professional will at all times act on her behalf. These tenets have formed the foundation of Western medical ethics for over 2000 years.