Moral duty to the sick

Though mostly of historical and traditional value, the Hippocratic Oath taken by most medical practitioners as a rite of passage remains relevant today.

Though mostly of historical and traditional value, the Hippocratic Oath taken by most medical practitioners as a rite of passage remains relevant today.

Most importantly, the oath's pronouncements on professional conduct transcend time.

Especially resonant and poignant is the tenet that makes it morally obligatory for the oath's signatories to tend to the sick - whatever their standing or economic circumstances.

This moral call appeals to even those medical practitioners who might not have taken the oath since it is not obligatory and is no longer taken up by all doctors worldwide.

To that extent, it is therefore not unreasonable to expect any doctor to voluntarily tend to the sick or injured in an emergency situation in order to save lives.

Prompting the topic is the saga of a critically ill Johannes Manqele, 52, who was turned away by a private hospital last week because he had not been transferred by a medical aid fund or a hospital. He later died while being taken to another hospital.

Not surprisingly, Selby Park Hospital's refusal to treat Manqele has caused public outrage. Joining the fray, the Human Rights Commission pointed out that though private hospitals had the right to refuse treatment, they're nevertheless still constitutionally bound not to deny anyone emergency care.

At the very least, the hospital should first have established the seriousness of Manqele's ailment and stabilised him before transferring him to a public hospital for further treatment.

Putting profit before lives is a preoccupation without moral justification.

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