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Do No Evil


The standard of nonmaleficence seems to be insufficient.

Most of us are familiar with the Hippocratic oath, or at least the gist of it. We ascribe the pledge to “do no harm” to the physicians that we entrust with our care. It’s fair to assume that most of these individuals, who sacrifice so much to become licensed physicians, do so from a good place. They truly want to help people. There are some bad apples, but they represent the exception.

This standard of nonmaleficence, however, seems to be insufficient. As one surveys the landscape of acceptable medical care in the United States, there are several troubling areas of practice. How does an OB/GYN who routinely preforms abortions still manage to satisfy this ancient oath? How does an MD/PhD in a lab doing extensive research using frozen human embryos check off the ethical box? A higher standard, a better standard, is to do no evil.

Semantics aside, evil is defined as something that is profoundly immoral and hostile to the dignity of the human person.

That Which Destroys Life
There are two primary ways to violate a “do no evil” ethical standard. The first of which would be doing something that directly destroys life. In the beginning stages of life, the unambiguous violations of this principle would be the prescription of hormonal contraceptives, embryonic stem cell research, and abortion.

Hormonal contraceptives are abortificient by design. Their purpose is to prohibit implantation of a human life in the germinal stage. Implantation is the fourth stage of human embryonic growth. The newly created human person is well on the path of growth an development. Therefore, to prescribe hormonal contraceptives is to participate directly in the destruction of a human life.

Embryonic stem cell research is another error of grave ethical concern. This research is conducted to further advance the understanding of basic human structures. While the aim is noble, the execution is troublesome. First, there is the question of consent. These embryos are essentially abandoned persons, who have their dignity and personhood reduced to a number identifier. Frozen, they are not even permitted to die until the research is concluded. This is a metaphysical nightmare. While it is easy to get lost in the scientific descriptors classifying humans at different stages and development, it may be easier to understand that calling a person an embryo or fetus is akin to patients being classified as pediatric or geriatric.

It is indisputable that abortion, at any stage, destroys human life.

The destruction of life by means of euthanasia or hastening the death of an elderly adult is equally an affront to the dignity of the human person. In a state of extreme vulnerability, to undertake treatment and acts that prematurely end the life of a person is more comparable to homicide than to any form of true mercy.

Denial of the Natural Order
The second way to violate this principle involves any action that denies the natural order. The human person is a creature unlike any other, and to reduce that dignity is an insult to humanity itself.

In vitro fertilization is a primary example of the denial of the natural order. Not only does it deconstruct the natural means of procreation, it does so in a dreadful way. Multiple eggs are fertilized, multiple human persons are created, only to be implanted with less than 50% chance of success. Those fertilized eggs that are deemed unusable are discarded. The cost is tremendous: the number of lives lost, the financial burden of each round, and the emotional toll that comes with it. This treatment is particularly loathsome because it makes grandiose promises while propagating a toxic lie. No person has a right to have a child because no person has a right to any other person.

There are also denials of the natural order when it comes to human sexuality as a whole. Here again, hormonal contraceptives run afoul of this principle because they take the glory of the female body and irreverently shut down a healthy, functioning system. This is not only a slight to the woman, but the man as well. Instead of educating the couple about the rhythm of female fertility and equipping them to work in harmony with the natural order and each other, a concrete barrier is erected. Thus, both man and woman are deprived of the loving joy that this intimate level of understanding and communication can bring.

Other commonly accepted procedures that violate this principle because of their denial of the natural order would include tubal ligations and vasectomies.

There is a problem in that each of the examples given above violate this principle of do no evil, but they are generally acceptable within the medical community. The only way to reconcile this disjointed reality is to recognize that there is room for improvement in the ethical practice of medicine. The stamp of approval by a committee of professionals does not negate ethical and moral culpability. Just as the state-sanctioned mass incarceration of Japanese-Americans in World War II was categorically wrong, so too are the procedures and practices listed above. Licensure of an unethical by an authority cannot negate the immorality. Physicians and clinicians must always work to correct deficiencies, not create them.

About the Author

CHET COLLINS is a full-time sidekick to three small humans. He gets his best creative work done during their nap time. He’s had a keen interest in bioethics since 2003.

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