Greek Medical Ethics

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Medicine has come a long way. The history of medicine shows how societies have changed and developed their approach to illness and disease. Early medical practices and texts include those of Egypt, Babylon, India, and China. These texts give us an understanding of natural and herbal remedies and have helped us find cures for illness and disease that we do not have a cure for in modern medicine. The Greeks first introduced the concepts of advanced medical ethics. The inspiration for the oaths of office that physicians swear upon entry into the profession comes from The Hippocratic Oath, written in Greece in the 5th century BCE.
The Egyptians called the science of medicine “a necessary art”. They understood that disease could
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However, by the 5th century BCE, there were attempts to identify mundane causes for illnesses rather than spiritual ones and this led to a move away from superstition towards scientific enquiry, although, in reality, the two would never be completely separated. Greek medical practitioners, then, began to take a greater interest in the body itself and to explore the connection between cause and effect, and the success or failure of various treatments. There was also a growing belief that a better understanding of the causes of an illness’ symptoms could help in the fight against the illness itself. Written documents on Greek medical practice begin with scenes from Homer’s Iliad where the wounded in the Trojan War are treated. Medical matters and doctors are also mentioned in other types of Greek literature such as comedy plays but the most sources come from around 60 treatises attributed to Hippocrates. The Hippocratic texts deal with all kinds of medical topics but can be grouped into 4 main categories of diagnosis, biology, treatment and general advice for doctors. The famous Hippocratic Oath was reserved for a select group of doctors and was actually a religious document. With the Oath, the practitioner swore by Apollo, Hygieia and Panacea to respect their teacher and not to administer poison, abuse patients in any way, use a knife or break the confidentiality between patient and doctor. Famous medical practitioners included Diocles of Carystus, Praxagoras of Cos (noted for his ‘discovery’ of the pulse and being the first to distinguish veins from arteries), and Mnestheus and Dieuches. Treatments often used natural plants such as herbs and roots but also included the use of amulets and charms. Surgery was generally avoided in ancient Greece, as it was considered too risky but minor operations may have been carried out, on soldiers wounded in battle. Over time
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