Jennifer Lahl, head of the Center for Bioethics and Culture (for which I consult), weighed in on human exceptionalism at the Human Life Review symposium, which debates whether religion is necessary to the defense of HE. No, she says. From, “Thank God Hippocrates Was a Pagan:”
Hippocrates and his contemporaries understood the idea of the sanctity of human life and the dignity of human persons, or as Wesley J. Smith writes, the idea or ideal of human exceptionalism. The Hippocratic belief of primum non nocere—first, do no harm—was the guiding principle in the covenantal directives which flowed from it. No euthanasia, nor even the thought of suggesting it, even if asked. No abortion. Equal treatment for all one’s patients along with the command of proper conduct, which protects the physician-patient relationship. Why? Because of the belief in human dignity and the sacredness of each and every human life. These concepts are known and understood by those in the secular world as well as those in the major religions. While tucked away from many people’s minds, the sensibilities of the oath are still very much with us. Yes, they are eroding, but they can easily be resurrected and put into practice when we make our arguments in the public square. This is something I often do in my work, and it has been quite effective in making the case for the sanctity of human life.
She effectively discusses the Oath’s contents and concludes:
While appeals to a faith tradition can be powerful and life-changing, we need a multitude of strategies to persuade and convince the larger culture that all human life is of equal intrinsic worth and that we need to enact policies which protect and serve human life. Secular documents like the Hippocratic Oath and even the more modern Universal Declaration on Human Rights acknowledge the dignity and rights of human beings and are useful and instructive to accomplish those ends.