Counselling women Tightening of abortion rules in the UK could result in 60,000 less abortions

Cross posted from Shannon Buckley at Mercatornet.

The abortion rules in the United Kingdom are set to be tightened in what has been described as “the biggest shake-up in a generation”.  The plan would introduce a mandatory obligation on abortion clinics to offer women access to independent counselling, which is run on separate premises by a group which does not itself carry out abortions.

This makes sense to me given that you must be a fairly pro-abortion individual to be working for an abortion clinic – out of doctors who agree with abortion being a choice, few are actually willing to do it and much less specialise in it.  This must surely mean skewed advice?

Although difficult to quantify, pro-life campaigners suggest the change could result in up to 60,000 fewer abortions each year in Britain, meaning 60,000 more births. Last year, 202,400 abortions were carried out in the United Kingdom. Robert Mendick reports in The Telegraph:

The proposed change comes ahead of a Commons vote, due to take place next week, on amendments to a public health Bill put forward by Nadine Dorries, a backbench Conservative MP.  The amendments would prevent private organisations which carry out terminations — such as Marie Stopes and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Bpas) — from offering pre-abortion counselling. Women would instead be offered free access to independent counsellors.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “We are currently developing proposals to introduce independent counselling for women seeking abortion. These proposals are focused on improving women’s health and wellbeing. Final decisions on who should provide this counselling have not yet been made.”  Proposals under discussion would involve withdrawing payments made by the taxpayer to abortion clinics for counselling women.

What is particularly concerning about abortion clinics giving pre-abortion counselling is that they are essentially advertising their own “product” – an awful way to put it given that it’s a human life we’re talking about, but people do make money out of it:

Last year, Marie Stopes and Bpas carried out about 100,000 terminations and were paid about £60 million to do so, mostly through the NHS…In a report entitled The Case for Independent Abortion Counselling, published last month by the campaign group Right to Know to bolster the Dorries amendment, abortion providers are accused of a “financial motivation… to grow revenues and increase the numbers of abortions that they perform” and claims that “the independence of counselling is compromised by the drive to encourage a decision for abortion”.

The report suggested that the “abortion industry” was worth £60 million a year to Marie Stopes and BPAS. The fewer abortions they carry out, the less income the charities would receive. In 1991, the NHS funded 84,369 abortions, but by 2010 that figure had more than doubled to 181,304. The additional abortions, paid for by the taxpayer, were entirely carried out by private providers such as BPAS and Marie Stopes on behalf of the NHS.

Regardless of what happens in the House of Commons, the United Kingdom Department of Health, is promising to develop proposals to introduce independent counselling for women seeking abortion, seemingly accepting that the advice given by abortion providers is not independent.  This seems a positive step forward for women in the United Kingdom to me – many of whom rush to an abortion clinic in a panic, to make what is a very significant decision.

Steven Ertelt from LifeNews provides further commentary on the Supreme Court decision.

New Zealand Right to Life is commenting on the recent decision by the nation’s Supreme Court allowing it to intervene in a case following up on a New Zealand Court of Appeal decision saying unborn children have no legal rights.

It also ruled on whether the Abortion Supervisory Committee was improperly approving abortions on mental health grounds. Previously New Zealand Right to Life sued the Abortion Supervisory Committee saying ASC is allowing abortions on alleged mental health grounds that are not necessary for women’s health.The Abortion Supervisory Committee is contesting a June 2008 ruling from High Court Judge Forrest Miller saying that there was “reason to doubt the lawfulness of many abortions authorized by certifying consultants.” The committee appealed the ruling and filed papers with the appeals court saying there is no evidence to justify Judge Miller’s conclusion.

Judge Miller also issued a decision saying unborn children have no legal rights in New Zealand and Right to Life challenged that portion of the decision. But the appeals court upheld Miller’s ruling in a 2-1 decision.

Court of Appeal bench of Justices Robert Chambers, Terence Arnold and Lyn Stevens heard the appeal. Concerning the ASC-approved abortions, the appeals court said, according to The Dominion Post, that two judges on the panel, Justices Chambers and Stevens, said it should seek more information in such abortions to ensure the national law is being complied with in those abortion cases.

“We consider that the appropriate channels of investigation would involve either a complaint by a patient or potentially by the committee itself, in which case the health and disability commissioner would become involved,” the court said. “Alternatively, there might be a complaint to the police, in which case the police would investigate the matter.”

Justice Arnold dissented in part and said he would have dismissed the ASC appeal and upheld Miller’s ruling.

Now, Right to Life has released the following comments:

Right to Life is disappointed that the Supreme Court is not prepared to consider our submissions on the humanity of unborn children and their inalienable right to life. Right to Life is committed to continue being a voice for our precious children, the voiceless unborn who are the weakest and most defenseless members of our human family. Right to Life will now take our case for the humanity of the unborn child to Parliament, the defender of human rights, the highest court in the land. The right to life of the unborn should be the most important justice issue at this year’s general election.

Right is pleased that the Supreme Court has given the Society leave to present our case for the judicial duty of the Abortion Supervisory Committee to scrutinise the decisions of certifying consultants and form its own view about the lawfulness of their decisions to authorise abortions and whether the High Court had jurisdiction to finding that “there is reason to doubt the lawfulness of many abortions authorised by certifying consultants”.Right to Life asks, Why are the Churches silent in defence of God’s children. Their deafening silence is being construed as consent.

The humanity of the unborn child is an inconvenient truth, for acceptance of the humanity of the unborn child would be an impediment to the killing of innocent human beings. The High Court found that “The rule according human rights only at birth is founded on convenience rather than medical or moral grounds.” “A legal right to life would be incongruous in such a law, for it would treat the unborn child as a separate legal person, possessing a status fundamentally incompatible with induced abortion, far from modifying the born alive rule. The abortion law rests on it.”

It is self evident that human life begins at conception and that the unborn child is endowed at conception by its Creator with human rights, the foundation right being the right to life. It is always wrong to kill the innocent and unborn children are entitled to the protection of the law for their human rights. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”

The denial of the humanity of the unborn is also an affront to the dignity of women who are the bearers of new life. How does society enhance the status of women by denying that her child in the womb is not a human being until it is born? Why are women silent in not seeking recognition of their unborn children as human beings.

Right to Life is disappointed that the Abortion Law Reform Association continues to seek to undermine the abortion laws. The Association rejoices in the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case for the humanity of the unborn child, their unprincipled stance is insulting to women. The Association which has a national membership of less than 200, continues to promote a woman’s so called right to kill her baby in the womb under the guise of “reproductive health”. The Association’s advocacy is a threat to the lives of the unborn and to the health and welfare of women. The Association is at the forefront in promoting a culture of death.

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supreme court of nz BREAKING! Right To Life granted leave to appeal to Supreme Court over NZ abortion case

The Culture Vulture reports…

The NZ Courts have just published online the official documents stating that Right To Life NZ has today been granted leave by the NZ Supreme Court to appeal the recent Court of Appeal ruling in their ongoing court case against the Abortion Supervisory Committee (ASC).

You might remember that in that rather bizarre ruling, a judgment of 2 to 1 was handed down in favor of the ASC, basically stating (and creating legal precedent) that the ASC doesn’t have any legal obligation to oversee and supervise the practice of abortion in order to ensure that the NZ law is being adhered to as is written (obviously this was a rather odd decision, not only because the ASC is actually a ‘supervisory’ committee, but also because the official NZ legislation regarding abortion actually seems to clearly say the exact opposite).

I don’t like to use the term ‘judicial activism’, but it’s hard to see how anything else could have led these two judges to hand down the ruling that they did.

Obviously this is a thorny issue for the ASC because they have been allowing the majority of abortions to be officially certified in this country under the very questionable grounds of ‘mental health’ as a justification for the abortion – which of course led Justice Miller, in his original ruling in this case, to declare that  there was “reason to doubt the lawfulness of many abortions authorised by certifying consultants” in NZ.

On a side note, I think that this is one of the reasons why the Abortion Law Reform Association of NZ has so vehemently tried to oppose the scientific research of NZ’s (pro-choice) Professor David Fergusson, because it has shown that “abortion is an adverse life event that is associated with a modest increase in risks of mental disorder”, and that “the mental health risks of abortion may be greater, and are certainly not smaller, than the mental health risks of [an] unwanted pregnancy that comes to term”.

0800 U Choose Volunteer Work Day

On August 26, 2011, in Blog, by Simeon

Working Bee 0800 U Choose Volunteer Work DayProlife Auckland will be helping out at 0800 U Choose, a South Auckland pregnancy options and help center, on Saturday the 27th.

0800 U Choose is currently doing some renovations, so we thought it would be a great idea to go along and give them some practical help with whatever we can help with!

If you are free on Saturday the 27th, come along and give them some support for the great work they do in the pro-life movement.

We will be starting at 10am, and finishing up with a pot luck lunch. Please bring a plate of finger food and/or some juice to share.

If you need transport, please send us a message, and a ride can be arranged. A car will be leaving uni at about 9:30am if you need a ride from there.

If you have any practical skills such as painting, building etc, please leave a comment below

Who are 0800 U Choose?

0800 U Choose are based in Auckland and provide help and support for women facing a crisis pregnancy.

This includes anything from a listening ear/someone to talk to a place to stay, practical teaching on baby care, financial help, teaching about pregnancy birth and after, care for your baby (whatever way you choose), going to appointments with you, linking with a midwife, linking with budgeting services and real love and support.

Check out the  Facebook page for 0800 U Choose.

Nathanson An unlikely hero of human dignity   Bernard Nathanson

An unlikely hero of human dignity died earlier this year, a doctor who once performed thousands of abortions.

Earlier this year when we were picking up Bryan Kemper from Auckland Airport for the ProLife NZ tour, Bernard Moran from Voice for Life told us of the last time he had served as chauffeur from the same airport for a big pro-life personality from the US – Bernard Nathanson. He remembered how excited Nathanson and his wife were to be to meet New Zealand’s world renowned “Father of Foetology” and co-founder of the pro-life movement in New Zealand, Sir William Liley

Here is an excellent summary of his life from Carolyn Moynihan at Mercatornet.

If you would like to know more about Nathanson, we have a few copies of his biography Hand of God - leave a message on the ProLife NZ Facebook page and we can loan you a copy.

During four decades of the abortion wars in the United States there has been much traffic across the battle lines. Many who should have been on the pro-life side positioned themselves in the opposite ranks — the deceptively named Catholics for a Free Choice is the prime example. This was the easy path, a case of going with the cultural flow under the influence of leading institutions in the media and political life.

Defections from the pro-abortion side, however, have been much more significant, not to mention heroic. Norma McCorvey, the “Jane Roe” plaintiff of the 1973 Supreme Court case which issued in the legalising of abortion throughout the US, became a high profile opponent of abortion and eventually petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn its Roe v Wade decision. Many others have followed her in the public renunciation of the killing of unborn children, most recently Abby Johnson, a young Planned Parenthood clinic operator from Texas, whose story was published last month.

But no convert to the pro-life cause comes near in prominence or influence to Dr Bernard Nathanson, one of the original abortion rights campaigners, who died on Monday at the age of 84. Dr Nathanson, did as much as anyone to launch abortion as a regular means of birth control, but for that very reason he also did more to discredit it once he faced the truth about this “procedure” and began to write and speak against it.

Culture wars — those that matter — are always about truth. As an obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Nathanson knew that there was a living human being in the womb of a pregnant woman but he turned his face against this scientific fact — in the first instance, perhaps, because abortion assisted his own lifestyle. At college in the 1940s he got his girlfriend pregnant and used money from his father to pay for her (illegal) abortion. “It served as my introduction into the satanic world of abortion,” he later wrote. After settling in New York he got another girlfriend pregnant and decided to abort the child — his child too — himself. How often denial of the truth is motivated by one’s own misdeeds!

The fact that many people were doing botched illegal abortions provided another excuse for the legalisation campaign that Dr Nathanson became caught up in during the late 1960s. “Illegal abortion was in 1967 the number one killer of pregnant women,” he wrote. Justifications paved the way for lies. In Aborting America (1979) he admitted:

We aroused enough sympathy to sell our program of permissive abortion by fabricating the number of illegal abortions done annually in the U.S. The actual figure was approaching 100,000 but the figure we gave to the media repeatedly was 1,000,000.  Repeating the big lie often enough convinces the public.  The number of women dying from illegal abortions was around 200-250 annually.  The figure we constantly fed to the media was 10,000.  These false figures took root in the consciousness of Americans convincing many that we needed to crack the [anti] abortion law.

Another lie — one that is told wherever abortion is promoted — was perpetrated by the name, Centre for Reproductive and Sexual Health, given to the New York abortion clinic where, from 1970 to 1972, Dr Nathanson, as director and by his own account, “presided over 60,000 deaths”. The “health” claim in the now numbingly familiar phrase, “sexual and reproductive health”, presumably is based on providing abortions which don’t kill women, but it is entirely cancelled out by the 100 per cent death rate for unborn children.

What brought the abortion “rights” crusader to change his mind — and, more importantly, his heart? Partly it was peer pressure: because of his public profile as an abortionist he began to be treated as a pariah in legitimate medical circles and received fewer obstetrical referrals. Surely, even at that early stage, it was also the fervour of the right-to-life movement that sprang up in opposition to the abortion campaign — although he deplored the “blind polarity” and “screaming placards” of both groups in an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1974.

In that article, however, Dr Nathanson expressed his misgivings about abortion and the “cry” used to justify it: “that nothing can be human life that cannot exist independently”. There was no longer, he said, “serious doubt in my mind that human life exists within the womb from the very onset of pregnancy…” Why? Because technology was making liars of everyone who held otherwise:

Electrocardiographic evidence of heart function has been established in embryos as early as six weeks. Electroencephalographic recordings of human brain activity have been noted in embryos at eight weeks. Our capacity to measure signs of life is daily becoming more sophisticated, and as time goes by, we will doubtless be able to isolate life signs at earlier and earlier stages in fetal development.

He performed his last abortion in 1979.

If pro-life activists were the first witnesses to the truth about the unborn child to Dr Nathanson, technology was the other great witness. Ultrasound imaging was developing rapidly and it was images of the child in the womb that eventually convinced him that a true human being is killed in abortion. Using real-time ultrasound images in 1985 he made the famous and electrifying short film, The Silent Scream, showing 12-week child shrinking away from the abortionist’s instruments. In 1987 he produced another film, Eclipse of Reason, showing a late term (five months) abortion in its gruesome and morally shocking detail. The latter film includes testimonies from several ex-abortionists.

Introducing “Eclipse of Reason”, actor Charlton Heston pointed out that more than 20 million abortions had been carried out in the US since 1973. Yet, despite the importance of the issue and the huge public debate about it, a complete abortion had never been shown on television. The media had failed to do what they said was their job: to inform the public — in this case about the facts of abortion.

Today, anyone can watch Dr Nathanson’s and other abortion videos on YouTube, but has any major television network yet shown such pictures? Even displaying graphic posters gets pro-life demonstrators into trouble, as though they were committing an obscenity themselves rather than the people who did the killing. There is a conspiracy among institutions to hide the truth, as Dr Nathanson himself observed.

His own efforts to correct the lies were untiring. In addition to his films there were books — notably, Aborting America (1979) — and speaking tours around the world. As he lost friends in the abortion movement and amongst former colleagues, he found new ones in the pro-life movement.

Joan Andrews, an ardent advocate for the unborn child who served more than a year in jail for blocking abortion clinic entrances, was particularly close. She was over 40 before she married Chris Bell and when she conceived, a friend tells me, she “asked Dr Nathanson to look after her pre-natal care. It was a big statement for someone like Joan to have a former abortionist caring for her own baby. I think the trust and confidence she showed in Dr Nathanson helped him to forgive himself for all the harm he had done to mothers and babies.”

He always accused himself before anybody else: “I am one of those who helped usher in this barbaric age,” he wrote in The Hand of God. And, “I know every facet of abortion. I helped nurture the creature in its infancy by feeding it great draughts of blood and money; I guided it through its adolescence as it grew fecklessly out of control.”

The New York Times quotes the latter sentence as an example of Dr Nathanson’s tendency to paint himself in “lurid colours” — as though it was merely a rhetorical device to make the audience gasp. Everything else, however, points to his deep sincerity and even heroism in completely turning his ideas and his life around. He has earned the right to be counted among the heroes of human dignity.

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pregnancy reduction twins Half aborted: why do “reductions” of twin pregnancies trouble pro choicers?

Thanks to the Culture Vulture for this great commentary from Slate

What’s worse than an abortion? Half an abortion.

It sounds like a bad joke. But it’s real. According to Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, demand is rising for “reduction” procedures in which a woman carrying twins keeps one and has the other aborted. Since twin pregnancies are generally safe, these abortions are largely elective.

Across the pro-choice blogosphere, including Slate, the article has provoked discomfort. RH Reality Check, a website dedicated to abortion rights, ran an item voicing qualms with one woman’s reduction decision. Jezebel, another pro-choice site, acknowledged the “complicated ethics” of reduction. Frances Kissling, a longtime reproductive rights leader, wrote a Washington Post essay asking whether women should forgo fertility treatment rather than risk a twin pregnancy they’d end up half-aborting.

In comments on these articles, pro-choice readers express similar misgivings. “Even as a woman who has terminated a pregnancy, I totally understand the author’s apprehension … something about it just doesn’t feel right,” says a Slate reader. A commenter at Jezebel writes that “if I were put in the position and decided to/needed to abort a single fetus, I could. But if I knew that I was keeping the baby and it turned out to be twins, I don’t think I could have a reduction.”

To pro-lifers and hardcore pro-choicers, this queasiness seems odd. After all, a reduction is an abortion. If anything, reduction should be less problematic than ordinary abortion, since one life is deliberately being spared. Why, then, does reduction unsettle so many pro-choicers?

For some, the issue seems to be a consumer mentality in assisted reproduction. For others, it’s the deliberateness of getting pregnant, especially by IVF, without being prepared to accept the consequences. But the main problem with reduction is that it breaches a wall at the center of pro-choice psychology. It exposes the equality between the offspring we raise and the offspring we abort.

Look up any abortion-related item in Jezebel, and you’ll see the developing human referred to as a fetus or pregnancy. But when the same entity appears in a non-abortion item, it gets an upgrade. A blood test could help “women who are concerned that they may be carrying a child with Down’s Syndrome.” A TV character wonders whether she’s “capable of carrying a child to term.” Nuclear radiation in Japan “may put unborn children at risk.”

This bifurcated mindset permeates pro-choice thinking. Embryos fertilized for procreation are embryos; embryos cloned for research are “activated eggs.” A fetus you want is a baby; a fetus you don’t want is a pregnancy. Under federal law, anyone who injures or kills a “child in utero” during a violent crime gets the same punishment as if he had injured or killed “the unborn child’s mother,” but no such penalty applies to “an abortion for which the consent of the pregnant woman … has been obtained.”

Reduction destroys this distinction. It combines, in a single pregnancy, a wanted and an unwanted fetus. In the case of identical twins, even their genomes are indistinguishable. You can’t pretend that one is precious and the other is just tissue. You’re killing the same creature to which you’re dedicating your life.

Sophie’s Choice is a common theme in abortion decisions. To give your existing kids the attention and resources they’ll need, you have to terminate your fetus. This rationale fits the pro-choice calculus that born children are worth more than unborn ones. But in the case of reduction, the child for whom you’re reserving attention and resources is equally unborn. She is, and will always be, a living reminder of what you exterminated.

This is what tortures pro-choicers. “I just couldn’t sleep at night knowing that I terminated my daughter’s perfectly healthy twin brother,” says a commenter in the Times story. A Jezebel reader worries about “all the poor surviving twins who will one day find out that their other is missing.” Another Jezebel reader writes:

I’d have a much easier time aborting a single baby or both twins than doing a reduction. When you reduce, the remaining twin will remain a persistent reminder of the unborn child. I think that, more than anything would make killing that fetus feel like killing another human, even though it wasn’t fully developed. It would feel that way because you would have a living copy of the person you killed.

That’s the anguish of reduction: watching the fetus you spared become what its twin will never be. And knowing that the only difference between them was your will.

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A race against time for Down syndrome research

On August 22, 2011, in Blog, by Alisdair

Downs Sydrome Cure A race against time for Down syndrome research

Cross posted from BioEdge.

Is it possible to cure Down syndrome? Alberto Costa, a 48-year-old physician and neuroscientist  at University of Colorado-Denver School of Medicine, thinks so. He has started a clinical trial on young adults with Down syndrome  to see if the drug memantine helps them become “smarter”. It is the first randomized clinical trial ever to take a drug that worked in mice with Down syndrome and apply it to humans.

Other scientists are hopeful, too. According to Craig C. Garner, a Down syndrome expert at Stanford University, “The last 10 years have seen a revolution in neuroscience, so that we now realize that the brain is amazingly plastic, very flexible, and systems can be repaired.”

In a fascinating feature in the New York Times Magazine, Dr Costa explains that his passion to find drugs which could help people with Down syndrome began when his only daughter, Tyche, was born with it.

“All I could think is, She’s my baby, she’s a lovely girl and what can I do to help her? Obviously I was a physician and a neuroscientist who studies the brain. Here was this new life in front of me and holding my finger and looking straight in my eyes. How could I not think in terms of helping that kid?”

However, Costa complains that he is finding it difficult to get funding for his research. Cystic fibrosis, which affects 30,000 people in the US, gets US$68 million in reseach funding. Down syndrome, which affects 300,000 to 400,000 got $22 million in 2011.

The reason? Down syndrome children are being aborted so fast that funding bodies think that there is little point in looking for a cure. “The geneticists expect Down syndrome to disappear,” Costa says, “so why fund treatments?” He fears that new quick non-invasive diagnostic tests will lead almost all women to abort Down syndrome children.

“It’s like we’re in a race against the people who are promoting those early screening methods. These tests are going to be quite accessible. At that point, one would expect a precipitous drop in the rate of birth of children with Down syndrome. If we’re not quick enough to offer alternatives, this field might collapse.”

Report on Brendan Malone talk @ Auckland uni

On August 19, 2011, in Auckland, Blog, by Simeon

Last Friday night Brendan Malone of the Culture Vulture came to Auckland University to give a talk on the topic of Abortion and Human Rights.

Photo 2 300x199 Report on Brendan Malone talk @ Auckland uni

The event was a huge success, with over a hundred people packing the Library Basement (a record for Pro-Life Auckland!) enjoying plenty of pizza and an engaging presentation on the nature of the entity in the womb, followed by a dissection of the Judith Jarvis Thompson ‘Violinist argument’. A truly brilliant night.



While dissecting the ‘violinist argument’ Brendan pointed out Thompson’s vital flaw by showing the  distinction between abortion, which is a direct and intentional killing of a human person, oppossed to the violinist in her argument dying from an incurable disease.

The video of Brendan’s talk will shortly be made available online for everyone who wasn’t there on Friday night, but in the meantime, visit our Facebook page to see images of the event.


Photo 1 300x199 Report on Brendan Malone talk @ Auckland uni

Prolife Auckland will be hosting more events similar to this in the future, as we continue to raise the profile of the abortion issue on campus and encourage students to think about life issues.

Join our Facebook page to keep up-to-date with our upcoming events.

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The Procedure, a powerful pro-life short film

On August 19, 2011, in Blog, by Miriam

H/T to the Culture Vulture for this one – a fantastic pro-life short film, well worth a look at.

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I swear by Apollo, the healer

On August 17, 2011, in Blog, by Alisdair

hippocratic oath new zealand I swear by Apollo, the healer

Cross posted from Michael Cook at Mercatornet.

Year after year doctors are ranked among the most trusted professions. In the UK, they have been top-ranked for 25 years running. One reason for this must surely be the prestige of the 2400-year-old Hippocratic Oath. This is so revered that it is constantly being used as a gold standard for other professions.

In 2007 the UK’s chief scientific advisor, Sir David King, published an ethical code for scientists modelled on the oath. AFter Climategate, some American researchers called for an oath for climatologists  (“I vow to always advise against any intervention into the functioning of Earth systems that I believe might harm humanity, the biosphere…”). An oath for software engineers has been mooted (first, do no malware…). And in the wake of the media scandal in Britain,columnist George Monbiot suggested a Hippocratic Oath for journalists (“ We will not curry favour with politicians, businesses or other dominant groups…”).

However, before other professions rush off to draft their own oaths, they ought to know something about the chequered history of the Hippocratic Oath and how effective it has been in keeping doctors on the straight and narrow.

Non-doctors commonly think that 25 centuries of the medical profession have been united in a solemn commitment to work for the welfare of their patients. Surprisingly, though, the Hippocratic Oath is a relatively recent phenomenon. It was first administered to students at the University of Wittenberg in Germany in 1508. Not until 1804 in France did it become a formal part of a graduation ceremony. And even in the 1920s in the United States only one-fifth of medical schools required it.

What made the oath popular was the disgraceful conduct of Nazi doctors. Doctors were key participants in the Nazi ideology, which some of its theorists described as “applied biology”. Doctors provided the rationale for sterilising 400,000 German citizens in the 1930s and 1940s and for the euthanasia of 200,000 mentally or physically handicapped. Some Nazi doctors helped to organise the death camps and conducted barbaric experiments upon prisoners.

After World War II there was a movement to consciously reframe medicine as a humanitarian service rather than just as a technical discipline. This gave rise to codes of medical ethics, the emergence of bioethics and photos of medical students taking the Hippocratic Oath.

However, Hippocrates would not recognise his oath if he were to attend a graduation ceremony today. Obviously some of its anachronistic features had to go. Swearing by Apollo, Asclepius, Hygieia, and Panacea is no longer binding. Hippocrates’ students were exhorted to share their goods with their master and “To look upon his children as my own brothers”. If only…

More controversially, the Greek oath contained clauses forbidding abortion and euthanasia. It was said to be the first time that killing and curing had been separated. Hippocrates was devoted only to healing his patients regardless of rank, age or sex. But both of these procedures are highly contested today. In a 1993 survey of medical oaths in the US and Canada, only 14 percent banned euthanasia, and only 8 percent abortion.

Hippocrates also took a much tougher line on sexual relations with patients. “In every house where I come I will enter only for the good of my patients, keeping myself far from all intentional ill-doing and all seduction and especially from the pleasures of love with women or with men, be they free or slaves.” Only 3 percent of US and Canadian oaths prohibited such contact.

But the contemporary oath is more than window-dressing. Physicians need to feel that their professional lives have a moral compass higher than self-interest. Furthermore, doctors know that regulations, financial incentives and public reporting are not enough to guarantee that patients receive the best possible care.

Updated oaths include clauses addressing issues like financial conflicts-of-interest, use of technology, medical error, whistle-blowing and racial discrimination. However, a survey in the Annals of Internal Medicine a few years ago indicated that doctors often ignore these guidelines. For instance, more than 90 percent agreed that doctors should report significantly impaired or incompetent colleagues – but only half did so.

A survey this year in the journal BMJ Quality and Safety found that only 80% of doctors strongly agreed that “Doctors should put patients’ welfare above the doctor’s own financial interests”. About 8% did not agree that it was “never appropriate” to have a sexual relationship with a patient.

Perhaps the point is that protocols and codes are not enough to produce ethical doctors or ethical journalists. There has to be something deeper. Hippocrates would have called it virtue. But how to make people virtuous is a problem that we still are far from solving.

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