Catholic Medical Quarterly

The Journal of the Catholic Medical Association (UK)

Building knowledge. Building faith. Protecting the vulnerable.

Book Review

Hippocrates Is Not Dead
An Anthology of Hippocratic Readings

by Patrick Guinan M.D.
Publ: authorhouse - May 2011
ISBN 978-1-4567-3546-3

Book coverOne of the most interesting points in this splendid work is in the preface where it is noted that the bioethics taught today is very different from traditional Hippocratic medical ethics. The latter is concerned with the individual patient. The former is not. So, is Hippocrates dead ?

Leon Kass thinks not. The tradition has a deep respect for the human person and recognizes that the body is often its own best healer.

Herbert Ratner notes that the dominance of rationalism in medical practice has led to a soul-body dualism. Medicine thus becomes a mere science. In contrast, the Hippocratic tradition sees medicine  firstly as an art. 

John Brehany discusses the Hippocratic oath - which this reviewer was sadly not allowed to take. The oath reminds us that the role of the physician is often a limited one. One wonders whether the discarding of the oath has led to a certain clinical arrogance ? According to the tradition, the physician ought always to place the welfare of his patient first.

Edmund Pellegrino writes that while medical competence is vital, so is respecting the ultimate end of medical practice. It is noted that while doctors have obligations, so have patients - truth telling being one of them.

Patrick Riley commends Herbert Ratner for standing up for his beliefs even when doing so made him unpopular. What guided Dr Ratner was the Hippocratic tradition.

Patrick Guinan wonderfully summarizes the main themes in this book. The current interventionist approach is destroying medicine as an art. This reviewer kept reflecting on the fact that the wrong kinds of interventions are often taking place. For example, doctors working in the IVF industry make good money without treating the underlying pathology. This goes right against the Hippocratic tradition.

Patrick Beeman ends the work on an upbeat note. Most people want to become doctors in order to help people. We must therefore hope that Hippocrates is not dead, just in deep sleep. He really needs to be woken up.