Sunday, August 22, 2010

First, Do No Harm

The Hippocratic Oath is a straight forward manifesto of ethical standards that pulls no punches and leaves no margin for wiggle room.  Do good to heal people, don't blab about their problems, and if you don't know the answer don't fake it. (There's even a direct admonition not to assist in an abortion or a suicide which begs the question are doctors really doctors if they do procedures that are in direct violation of the Oath, but those debates are endless and for another time.)  But rather than engage relevance of the Hippocratic Oath for the modern America doctor, I take a closer look at a case in Saudi Arabia: Karmic Backstabbing and wonder why I support the death penalty if I am against the idea of tit-for-tat punishment in this instance. 

The accused has paralyzed the victim during a fight.  (Taking a meat cleaver to a fist fight is about as fair as inviting a one-legged man to an ass-kicking contest.)  And the Saudi courts are trying to figure out the proper punishment.   To sever the spine or not too, that is the question.

At first blush, my instinct is to agree with Amnesty International.  Purposely destroying the human body in a tit-for-tat manor screams of ignorance and the dark ages.  Doctors are not going to actively engage in harming a person for the request of the courts.  It's against their ethical code.  To me, paralyzing the accused sounds so barbaric, so ignorant.  In a day and age where we are (reasonably) able to confine criminals for their evil deed for a long duration or until to the end of their natural lives, why does the Saudi court want to entertain the idea of physically mutilating someone in retribution for their crimes?  Don't they have a better way of extracting justice for the wronged?

And this has led me to wonder, if I'm for the death penalty, why is it any less barbaric or unjust as severing a spine.  Where is the sense is that?