Ethics, morality part of health care

President Gordon B. Hinckley used the Hippocratic Oath as a starting point in urging a gathering of LDS physicians to "reach out in added measure to help" those who are "powerless to help themselves."

During his speech at an after-dinner meeting of Collegium Aesculapium on April 3, the prophet also discussed ethical questions in the medical profession pertaining to cloning and euthanasia.Speaking in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building chapel, President Hinckley accepted the organization's Humanitarian Award, a bust of Aesculapius, the ancient Greek healer for whom Collegium Aesculapium is named. His wife, Sister Marjorie Hinckley, received a bouquet of flowers.

Regarding the organization's name, he said he knew that Aesculapius was regarded as the god of medicine and healing, that he supposedly descended from Apollo.

"That led me to my father's old set of the Harvard Classics, where I found the Oath of Hippocrates. . . . I read the oath, then I re-read it. Hippocrates was a Greek physician. He lived somewhere between the fourth and third centuries B.C. His family claimed descent from Aesculapius."

Quoting from the oath, President Hinckley then commented: "The oath says in effect that as a physician, [one] will do no harm. This gathering of doctors and health-care specialists is concerned with questions of ethics and morality. I can say that the Hippocratic Oath is a beginning point in this matter. It deals with the kind of care to be given and with the importance of confidentiality."

He added, "You, each of you, is a part of this remarkable process that goes forward designed to improve the health and well-being of men, women and children everywhere."

Commenting on the wonder of the human body, he said, "Surely, these bodies are the creations of God. I think you must stand in awe at the wonderful thing on which you work."

He quoted a 1981 statement from President Spencer W. Kimball that "no physician can heal. He can only provide a satisfactory environment and situation so that the body may use its own God-given power of re-creation to build itself." He also quoted Elder Malcolm Jeppson, a physician and former member of the Seventy as saying in general conference: "I hereby make an admission: physicians do not cure patients. This marvelous and complicated machine we call the human body has built into it its own wonderful healing mechanism. All a physician can do is to provide a good healing environment."

Noting that health care has become big business, President Hinckley observed that "ethics and morality enter into the picture."

"There is evidently dishonesty in high places in the healing business. It hurts everyone, and most particularly I know that it hurts you who are men and women of integrity who wish only to have the opportunity of practicing medicine in the best way possible and according to the highest standards."

Saying his personal physician is a bishop in the Church, President Hinckley said: "Once doctors avoided Church service, or Church leaders avoided calling them because it was thought they were too busy. Now they serve very extensively and very ably as bishops, stake presidents, mission presidents and in many other capacities. They bless the Church with their very devoted and able service."

He paid tribute to physicians and surgeons who spend part of each year going abroad among the poor of the earth to give needed medical help. He expressed the hope that those who are skilled would perform "a fair amount of what the lawyers call pro bono work," and added: "There are so many who are sick. My plea is that you will reach out in added measure to help them. They are powerless to help themselves. Many of them have no resources. They need the kind of help only you can give. Upon you who are participating in this conference there is a special obligation. You are members of the Church . . . . You men hold the holy priesthood. You are worthy to go to the temple. You are your brother's keeper. You are the good Samaritans of this world. You are the healers, and in that situation you are followers and disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ."

Speaking of current ethical questions in medicine, President Hinckley said he had been interviewed recently by media representatives who wanted to know about the Church's stand on cloning. Just the previous day, he said, he was asked by the Wall Street Journal to comment on it and submitted the following statement:

"The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints declared in its 1995 Proclamation on the Family that `God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife. We declare the means by which mortal life is created to be divinely appointed.'

"The family was designated by God as the eternal unit with moral agency over creation. Husbands and wives are co-creators with Him and stewards over the divine powers of creation. Each person is born with a unique personal and spiritual identity from a premortal life in the presence of a loving God. Those who tamper with the sacred powers of creation stand accountable before Him.

"For these reasons, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints encourages those in a decision-making capacity to seek rigorous guidelines and safeguards on genetic research and experimentation."

Regarding questions of euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide, President Hinckley said the answers go back to the Hippocratic Oath. "Further, if we believe that we are part of a divine plan, if life is sacred and death is determined by an all-wise Creator, these are very sensitive issues with which you deal."

He then quoted two statements from the General Handbook of Instructions for priesthood leaders. The first states: "A person who participates in euthanasia - deliberately putting to death a person suffering from incurable conditions or diseases - violates the commandments of God."

The second relates to the prolonging of life and reads: "When severe illness strikes, Church members should exercise faith in the Lord and seek competent medical assistance. However, when dying becomes inevitable, it should be looked upon as a blessing and a purposeful part of eternal existence. Members should not feel obligated to extend mortal life by means that are unreasonable. These judgments are best made by family members after receiving wise and competent medical advice and seeking divine guidance through fasting and prayer."

President Hinckley then added: "Most of you are faced with the question of using heroic measures, so-called, to prolong life, particularly with the elderly and infirm. I believe that most of you know what to do, and that you act prayerfully and wisely in these difficult circumstances.

"I can only hope, I can only pray that you will counsel with your Father in heaven as you are faced with these agonizing decisions. You are entitled to inspiration, and I believe you will receive it."

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