Medical Ethics

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Since ancient times, a physician's daily conduct has been prescribed by his oaths upon admission to the medical profession. These oaths (the Oath of Hippocrates, the Prayer of Maimonides, and the American Medical Association's Principles of Medical Ethics) emphasize that the first duty of a doctor is to his patient. The first canon of medicine is to "do no harm." Physicians breach this basic code when they elect to place their own research interest above their duty to care for their patients.

The Declaration of Geneva of the World Medical association binds all physicians with the words, "The health of my patient will be my first consideration," and the International Code of Medical Ethics declares that "A physician shall act only in the patient's interest when providing medical care which might have the effect of weakening the physical and mental condition of the patient." The Declaration of Geneva arose after the atrocities of the Nazi's experimentation on children came to light. Recognizing the need of regulating beneficial research, the World Medical Association (WMA) in 1964 developed and published the first comprehensive guidelines on medical research, published as the Declaration of Helsinki.

Using the guidelines of the Helsinki Declaration, the United States Congress in 1974 passed the National Research Act, Public Law 93-348, codified in 45 CFR. Sec. 212.(a) Part I of title IV of the Public Service Act, as amended by section 103 of the National Research Act established the Institutional Review Boards (IRB) as a watchdog for strict compliance with ethical guidelines for all federally funded research on human subjects. The role of the IRB-s is both to ensure compliance with the federal guidelines and supervise the institution's research activities.

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