‘I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but never with a view to injury and wrong-doing. Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course. Similarly I will not give to a woman a pessary to cause abortion.’ – Hippocrates, said to be from the 4th or 5th century BC
Sometime around April 1986 I was, as a medical student, in a lecture theatre in a South Manchester teaching hospital. My head was face down on the desk and I was crying. The lecture being given was showing us how ultra-high-tech equipment was being used to save ever younger premature babies. That was reason enough to cry, but that was not why I was doing so. The reason was because in the previous lecture, a similarly qualified doctor from the same team had showed us how up-to-date medicine was being used to kill children some of whom were of similar age to those who were now, in this second lecture, being fought for so hard. Some were loved and saved. Others were discarded like so much trash. There was no difference between them.
What really struck me was that there was almost no connection felt between the two lectures on the part of my 250 or so fellow students. The clinical class took all this killing on board.
I became a Christian in my first year as a medical student. This was at St Andrews University. Before that, you would have had no difficulty persuading me that abortion is the ending of a human life, but I was in favour of it because no one could tell me the value of a human being. Once I became a Christian, I saw for the first time the true value of every person, that is, all human beings as creatures made for the glory of God and in his image. You may not agree with that, but that is what radically changed my mind.
Later in 1986 I was sent to an abortion clinic. I told the doctor in charge that I would not be able to stay on account of my convictions. She was angry and shouted, ‘You are mad! Civilisation would collapse if we all held your views.’ Let me be mad, then. A formal complaint about my behaviour was put in.
Before that year the small group of Christians of whom I was one were aware, having spoken to many, that most of our colleagues felt that abortion was wrong. By the end of the year there appeared to be a hardening of hearts. We were being trained to kill unborn children without mercy and almost no one objected. What would Hippocrates make of that?
One of the saddest, if not the saddest, things that I have dealt with as a doctor was the birth of a premature baby in an emergency department. The teenage mother had not told anyone of her condition. We could only stand and watch this beautiful tiny child die. There was nothing we could do. The senior nurse, being a Roman Catholic, asked the mum if she wanted the child baptised and this went ahead. I wonder if that nurse would survive without being struck off in the current climate?
Move forward to the present and consider the events at the hospital in Gosport. I do not know the details and I don’t want to add to the suffering of any of the families involved. Opiates in large doses would certainly fulfil Hippocrates’s definition of poison in the above quote. My point is that doctors who are trained to kill tiny babies without conscience and without remorse may find it easier to kill vulnerable older people. At medical school we were trained to save life, but we were trained to take it also. Is this still the case for medical students today? Has abortion ceased to be practised in the NHS?
As students, we became aware that many patients had their lives shortened with large doses of opiates. I remember an informal discussion with a number of doctors who expressed their surprise at my ethics, and especially the thought that this could be breaking the sixth of the Ten Commandments. Did I not know that this was normal practice? What else were we supposed to do for those who were about to die? This practice of giving patients who were believed to be dying large doses of morphine to help speed them on their way was known about and approved of at all levels, I believe, right to the very top.
What I find in reading some of the online medical comment about the Gosport tragedy is that there tends to be a distinction in thought drawn between those who were known to be dying and those who were expected to live. This means that there is a sort of consensus that it is all right to give large doses of opiates to patients who we think are dying. How can you draw a line? I believe that many people in many hospitals were killed in this way. Again I have to say, where did indifference amongst doctors and nurses to such practices come from? Was it the deadly anti-life seed that was sown in our hearts at medical school? When did we start to believe that it was right to kill patients with opiates? It is not a practice that I have ever taken part in.
If I were known to be dying I would like pain relief, but not killing, please. In fact we have too often drugged and hidden the dying in order to sanitise and conceal the reality of death, in my opinion. In some cases people would benefit and perhaps want to stay alert, even if it involves more pain, for a whole variety of possible reasons. One might want speak to a son or daughter for the last time. Another might want to make peace with God.
The Hippocratic Oath goes on:
‘Into whatsoever houses I enter, I will enter to help the sick, and I will abstain from all intentional wrong-doing and harm, especially from abusing the bodies of man or woman, bond or free.’
Clearly gender reassignment, either arbitrary, by surgery, or chemical means would be unthinkable to Hippocrates and his students. What would he have said today about the gender-fluid movement and the devastating confusion generated amongst our little children? I think he would have been speechless.
What would a doctor’s oath at graduation look like today? ‘I will do everything the politically correct elite tell me without question’ perhaps? How many doctors at all stages of their careers have betrayed Hippocrates’s principles, and what does that say about our national health services? How far does this go to explain something like the terrible events in Gosport?
Human life is far more valuable than our rulers are willing to admit or to define in legislation. What comes next?
By 1988, the year that I qualified at Manchester Medical School, the Hippocratic Oath was no longer taken on graduation.