Medscape Discusses Euthanasia in Disasters

I’m late to the party on this one, but there’ s been a discussion over at MedScape by several docs (incidentally they’re all very good bloggers: Robert W. Donnell of Notes from Dr. RW, Pennie Marchetti of Medpundit, Roy Poses,  of the group blog Health Care Renewal and Robert Centor, of DB’s Medical Rants, which for my money has excellent medical content but needs more rants).

Unsurprisingly, all a) can’t say what they’d do in a serious disaster situation but b) think euthanasia is a bad solution.  It’s not really a discussion amongst the named participants, more a series of well written short monographs about the above.  It’ll take you about 5 minutes to read.

My rant-critique of a trivial but annoying point: three of the five invoked the Hippocratic Oath, which I find more than a little hackneyed, and silly.  First, I know of no physician who gets up in the morning and runs through the oath to make sure it’s ‘all still in there’.  Second, for those who profess they do, are they really “…swear(ing) by Apollo the physician, by Aesculapius, Hygeia, and Panacea, and I take to witness all the gods, all the goddesses, to keep according to my ability and judgment the following oath:?”  No.

And, let’s not forget that many medical student graduates don’t take the Hippocratic Oath (I never have), but one of the others.  My class took the Oath of Geneva (enacted after medical complicity in Nazi atrocities compelled the World Medical Association to write a new oath in 1948).  (It’s been modified a few times; here’s the original version, which leaves out the ‘from conception’ part).

So, invoking Hippocrates doesn’t really get me onboard with an argument; I understand what is meant, but it’s not quite the Ten Commandments for me and my practice.  (First Do No Harm is).


And, I think if we as a society cherish duration of life over quality of life, so be it.  Be prepared to suffer for your last days; and to what end?  We still, all, die.

Me?  To paraphrase Dr. Oscar London, “Let me go, embraced in the arms of morpheus, and not strapped to a chair in the day room.”


  1. Whenever I hear about the Hippocratic oath, I am reminded that technically I never took it. I graduated out of synch with my classmates, and therefore never attended a graduation ceremony — I had to be on to my internship.

    Saved money on the cap-and-gown rental, still got all the paperwork.

  2. Your closing comment reminds me of the plea: “Let me go peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather; and not screaming in terror, like the people in his car.”

  3. Thanks for reading the Medscape piece. It’s a popular myth that all doctors in training, or upon graduation, take the Hippocratic oath. I didn’t.

    The recent acceptance of physician assisted death, when considered in light of historic medical ethical traditions, is an aberration. I invoked the oath merely as an example of that.

  4. familydoc says:

    We don’t need an oath – try this:
    Primum non nocere.