Chinese Confucian Culture and the Medical Ethical Tradition
Journal of Medical Ethics. 1995 Aug; 21(4): 239-246.
The Confucian culture, rich in its contents and great in its significance, exerted on the thinking, culture and political life of ancient China immense influences, unparalleled by any other school of thought or culture. Confucian theories on morality and ethics, with 'goodness' as the core and 'rites' as the norm, served as the 'key notes' of the traditional medical ethics of China. The viewpoints of Confucianism on benevolence and material interests, on good and evil, on kindheartedness, and on character cultivation were all inherited by the medical workers and thus became prominent in Chinese traditional medical ethics. Hence, it is clear that the medical profession and Confucianism have long shared common goals in terms of ethics. Influenced by the excellent Confucian thinking and culture, a rather highly-developed system of Chinese traditional medical ethics emerged with a well-defined basic content, and the system has been followed and amended by medical professionals of all generations throughout Chinese history. This system, just to mention briefly, contains concepts such as the need: to attach great importance to the value of life; to do one's best to rescue the dying and to heal the wounded; to show concern to those who suffer from diseases; to practise medicine with honesty; to study medical skills painstakingly; to oppose a careless style of work; to comport oneself in a dignified manner; to respect local customs and to be polite; to treat patients, noble or humble, equally, and to respect the academic achievements of others, etc. Of course, at the same time, Confucian culture has its own historical and class limitations, which exerted negative influences on traditional medical ethics. Now, if we are to keep up with the development of modern medicine, a serious topic must be addressed. That is how to retain the essence of our traditional medical ethics so as to maintain historic continuity and yet, at the same time, add on the new contents of medical ethics so as to incorporate modern features into our system. Therefore, when trying to reform medical practice in China, we are faced with the urgent need to inherit and promulgate the essence of Confucian ethics -- discarding its obsolete concepts -- while at the same time building up the new medical ethics that can meet the requirements of the outside world and the future.
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