HISTORICALLY, a physician's primary, and arguably exclusive, responsibility
has been to his or her patients. The Oath of Hippocrates taken by physicians
across the nation calls for a physician to practice medicine and prescribe
treatment for "the benefit of his or her patients and abstain from whatever
is deleterious and mischievous." More modern versions of this oath include
references to purity of purpose and holiness of life, directing "every word
and deed . . . solely to the welfare of these patients." Although some may
argue that this oath is anachronistic and in need of revision, a physician's
dedication to serving the needs of his or her patients has remained the "immutable
bedrock of medical ethics."1
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