Hippocratic, Religious, and Secular Medical Ethics

The Points of Conflict

Robert M. Veatch

"A provocative and challenging starting point for discussion about the foundations of medical ethics."
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Where should physicians get their ethics? Professional codes such as the Hippocratic Oath claim moral authority for those in a particular field, yet according to medical ethicist Robert Veatch, these codes have little or nothing to do with how members of a guild should understand morality or make ethical decisions. While the Hippocratic Oath continues to be cited by a wide array of professional associations, scholars, and medical students, Veatch contends that the pledge is such an offensive code of ethics that it should be summarily excised from the profession. What, then, should serve as a basis for medical morality?

Building on his recent contribution to the prestigious Gifford Lectures, Veatch challenges the presumption that professional groups have the authority to declare codes of ethics for their members. To the contrary, he contends that role-specific duties must be derived from ethical norms having their foundations outside the profession, in religious and secular convictions. Further, these ethical norms must be comprehensible to lay people and patients. Veatch argues that there are some moral norms shared by most human beings that reflect a common morality, and ultimately it is these generally agreed-upon religious and secular ways of knowing—thus far best exemplified by the 2005 Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights—that should underpin the morality of all patient-professional relations in the field of medicine.

Hippocratic, Religious, and Secular Medical Ethics is the magnum opus of one of the most distinguished medical ethicists of his generation.

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments

Introduction: The Hippocratic Problem

1. The Hippocratic Oath and the Ethic of Hippocratism

2. The Hippocratic Tradition: A Sporadic Retreat

3. The Cacophony of Codes in Medical Schools and Professional Associations

4. The Limits of Professionally Generated Ethics

5. Religious Medical Ethics: Revealed and Natural Alternatives

6. Secular Ethics and Professional Ethics

7. Fallibilism and the Convergence Hypothesis

Appendix: Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights




"Veatch is instantly recognizable to all specialists in the field of bioethics as the leading and long-term opponent of the effort of the Hippocratic tradition across two millennia to locate medical ethics solely within the medical guild and to assert the guild’s right and duty to define – for both professionals and their patients . . . . It is the author’s magnum opus on medical ethics set within a scholarly, historical framework."—America Magazine

"A provocative and challenging starting point for discussion about the foundations of medical ethics."—Ethics and Medicine

"Hippocratic, Religious, and Secular Medical Ethics is one of those books that provides us with a bigger picture of our everyday narrow topic of interest in the field of medical ethics. Fundamental questions lead us to the sources of the most important points of conflict in this field. Veatch does not leave us with these questions but suggests interesting solutions. The book is definitely worth reading."—Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

"In many ways, the core argument of the book is what may be his most significant contribution to medical ethics: what Veatch describes as the problem of the generalization of expertize."—Health Progress

"This is an important book for clinicians and all teachers of professional ethics, not only medical ethics."—Choice


Supplemental Materials


Congratulations to Robert M. Veatch, 2008 recipient of the American Society of Bioethics and the Humanities Lifetime Achievment Award.

About the Author

Robert M. Veatch is a professor of medical ethics at Georgetown University's Kennedy Institute of Ethics. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society for Bioethics and the Humanities and a former member of the editorial board of the Journal of the American Medical Association. He is the author or editor of over forty books, including The Basics of Bioethics, Transplantation Ethics, and Patient, Heal Thyself.

256 pp., 6 x 9

Oct 2012

256 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-1-58901-946-1
Oct 2012

256 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-58901-947-8
Oct 2012

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