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T.A. Cavanaugh

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date: 22 October 2020

Chapter 1 (Snake?) reflects on Asclepius’ snake (symbolic of the healing profession) as indicative of the need for Hippocrates’ Oath. Chapter 1 proposes that this ancient medical symbol reveals medicine’s vexing ethical problem, iatrogenic harm—wounds caused by a physician. Such wounds take three forms: wounds ineliminable from therapy (e.g., cauterizing), harmful errors committed while caregiving (e.g., wrong drug dose), and, last of all, but most ethically problematic, wounds of role-conflation, such as euthanizing a patient or assisting suicide (at the patient’s request). By the last type of wound, a physician takes on the role of wounder and deliberately injures, thereby abandoning the practice of medicine as an exclusively therapeutic activity. Chapter 1 argues that Hippocrates’ Oath responds to this vexing medical-ethical problem of role conflation by having physicians forswear the role of wounder, especially as instanced by killing.

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