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The teachings of Maimonides and a moral imperative

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2007 - Spring


The 12th-century physician Maimonides, who lived in Spain and Egypt, achieved fame as a rabbi and philosopher yet helped to establish a moral imperative that guides medicine to this day: the obligation to make every effort to heal the patient.

Although best known for his Guide for the Perplexed, which proposed ways to reconcile religion and science, the scholar also proposed an alternative to the prevailing Christian view of a doctor’s role, said Sherwin B. Nuland, M.D. ’55, HS ’61, clinical professor of surgery and author of a biography of Maimonides. In a December talk, Nuland told members of the Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics that Maimonides saw medical care not as a prayer but as “something physical that needs to be done.” Healing remained linked to faith, nonetheless, because renewed health would allow the patient to resume his study of God.

As a physician, Maimonides believed that “you are to make any sacrifice other than another human life to save someone you can possibly save,” Nuland said. “There is no credit to be given to a physician for doing his work. It is an obligation.”