Primum non nocere—first do no harm. This concept isn’t, in fact, found in the text of the ancient hippocratic oath, and frankly, the hippocratic oath is a relic of the past, no longer respected as a sacred code of medical ethics. It is no more than a rite of passage if it’s taken at all. The oath, named for the Greek physician, Hippocrates, has been modified over time, secularized and modernized to remove any appeals to morality or references to the beginning of life. The concept of “do no harm” did appear in spirit in the original text, “I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art.” But these clauses have been erased entirely in its modern counterpart and replaced with linguistic hand-washing: “If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.”
On February 25, the United States Senate failed a measure, 53-44, which would have required that life-saving measures be taken when a baby is born alive after a botched abortion. The Born-Alive Survivors Protection Act comes in the wake of laws extending abortion rights up until the point of birth, narrowly voted down in Virginia and passed in New York and Vermont.
The governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, was one of many prominent Democrats to offer support for infanticide. “If a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen. The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired. And then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother,” said Governor Northam, implying that should an infant be born alive after an attempted abortion, born “unviable,” or born with a disability, such a situation would prompt a discussion between mother and doctor about whether or not to put the child out of his/her misery. Repugnant language like this shouldn’t be used about anything more sentient than a barn animal. Senator Ben Sasse rightly remarked, “I don’t care what party you’re from—if you can’t say that it’s wrong to leave babies to die after birth, get the hell out of public office.”
In the wake of the failed Born-Alive Survivors Protection Act, Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted “Republican politicians just tried (and failed) again to score political points at the expense of women. Enough. Women and their doctors should decide what’s best for their health–not the @SenateGOP.” In this latest opportunity to come to the defense of life, Democrats like Warren showed their cards. Democratic lawmakers are adamantly opposed to any measure Republican politicians attempt to enact which they see as impeding a woman’s right to choose life or death for her child. An unwanted baby, in the view of democratic lawmakers, has no right to live. It is the choice of the mother which determines whether or not a child, outside of the womb, is worthy of the protection granted under the law to every other U.S. citizen. How is it that holding human choice, rather than morality and eternal truth, as the apex of decision making isn’t “playing God”? The left’s battle for late-term abortion is not about women’s health, as they claim, but the profoundly misguided primacy of choice which defines their worldview.
Now more than ever there is a desperate need for a standard of medical ethics worthy of the profession. Even in this dystopian reality, doctors possess the agency to ensure that the medical profession does not become a vehicle for eugenics or maternally-prescribed infanticide. No one (to my knowledge) enters the medical profession because they want to be a eugenicist, but wielding the “awesome responsibility” to save or take life can lead to blurred lines of justice and morality. Future doctors must remember that God alone has the power to take innocent life and that such a decision is not ours to make.
In the words of Pope Saint John Paul II, “A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members; and among the most vulnerable are surely the unborn and the dying.” So to all those who aspire to a profession in medicine, please be the healing hands of Jesus in the world. Defying the expectations of our increasingly progressive society, honor your profession, and live your faith by pledging to “do no harm” and so, combat our society’s insidious deference to individual choice.
Keenan is a senior studying political science with minors in history and Constitutional Studies. She is a staunch, albeit hypocritical, advocate of living on campus all four years. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.