Publication Date

Spring 2019


School of Health Sciences


Biology: Pre-Med


medical ethics, compassion, history of medical ethics, compassion in medicine


Bioethics and Medical Ethics | History | Medical Humanities | Mental and Social Health


Compassion has been an integral part of medical ethics since its origins, but as medicine progressed, compassion slowly disappeared from practice. The development of any industry results from many complex factors, but the decline of compassion in medicine can be largely attributed to the evolution of technology and role of medical ethics committees. Change is not always negative, but in this case, medicine neglected one of its foundational principles. This is seen by analyzing the history and progression of medical ethics and its four pillars. Plato and Aristotle defined justice in Greek philosophy, Hippocrates used the concept of non-maleficence in his oaths, the philosophy of John Gregory and Kant brought autonomy into a medical context, and the work of Thomas Percival sought to view medicine a beneficent undertaking. These critical principles were summarized by Joseph Fletcher. Each of these individuals also acknowledged the great role compassion played in medical practice. However, as the medical field developed, its reliance on compassion was in part replaced by a thirst for progress and acting ethics committees. Medicine needs compassion because it was built on compassion. It is not simply an ideal drawn from philosophers, it is a necessity for the wellness of both patients and practitioners.