Philosophical foundations of medical ethics in European culture with a focus on the placement of responsibility within Christian medical ethics


Author: Søren Ventegodt
Page Range: 183-196
Published in: Journal of Alternative Medicine Research, 15#2 (2023)
ISSN: 1939-5868

Table of Contents


Greek and Christian philosophy have formed Western culture. Both have strong and explicit spiritual roots resulting in a highly developed ethical code of conduct. Contemporary medicine takes a predominantly materialistic approach, placing more importance on expert opinion than individual responsibility. Our aim with this paper is to re-orient ethics of contemporary medical culture within the philosophical value systems that have given rise to that very culture. Approach: To examine funda-mental ethical principles as indicated in the Corpus Hippocraticum and the Christian bible, with special attention to the placement of responsibility in the context of ‘faith.’ Central arguments: 1) The body is holy and God-given; responsibility for the body’s health can never be transferred to another human being. 2) Healing of the body comes from faith which is essentially a healing of mind and spirit. From this derives a third argument: 3) Taking responsibility for a patient disempowers that patient and hinders the healing-process, turning him or her dependent and towards chronic conditions. Conclusion: The biggest problems of today’s public health care systems is a materialistic development resulting in a reductionistic approach and paternalistic behaviours, disrespecting the patient’s subjectivity or autonomy and thus the capacity to come to vital decisions with integrity and responsibility. The result of this is that a fair amount of physical and mental illnesses under the circumstances are beyond recovery. Returning to the philosophical and religious heritage of our own culture could help alleviate this situation substantially.

Keywords: Greek philosophy, Christianity, responsibility, spirituality in medicine, faith and healing, attitudes to health, medical ethics, public health care, doctor-patient-relationship, materialist medical paradigm

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