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Article |

Medical Ethics in the Renaissance

John M. Clark, MD
JAMA. 1996;276(17):1445-1446. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03540170089045.
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The continuing evolution of human thinking is best evaluated by comparing our ideas with those of the past and realizing that, even though we have an amazing fund of scientific knowledge, we are still emotional and moral siblings of the ancients.

Medical Ethics in the Renaissance is a narrowly focused history of ideas and values. The author spends little time in this 230-page book analyzing the history of the Renaissance but plunges directly into his first topic, the question of physicians lying to patients, one that thrives in our hospital conference rooms today. Do we lie to a patient if it will benefit his health? Do we withhold information? Is deception of colleagues acceptable? Renaissance medical writers varied; some clung to the traditional pronouncements of Hippocrates and Galen, while others debunked their ideas along with the sorcery, mysticism, alchemy, and witchcraft of medicine in the Middle Ages; still others opposed


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