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Academic Medicine:
doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181a85466
Medicine and the Arts

Ethics: [Excerpt]

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich

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Taken from Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 6: Ethics by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Copyright 2008 Fortress Press. Used by permission of Augsburg Fortress.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in Breslau in 1906. The son of a famous German psychiatrist, he studied in Berlin and New York City. He left the safety of America to return to Germany and continue his public repudiation of the Nazis, which led to his arrest in 1943. Linked to the group of conspirators whose attempted assassination of Hitler failed, he was hanged in 1945.

If, for example, I am a physician, then in the concrete instance I serve not only my patients but also medical science and with it science and the knowledge of truth in general. Although in practice I perform this service at my concrete position, for example at the bedside of a patient, yet I am continuously aware of my responsibility for the whole, and it is only in this that I fulfill my calling. Furthermore, it may happen that I, as a physician, am obliged to recognize and fulfill my concrete responsibility no longer by the sick-bed but, for example, in taking public action against some measure which constitutes a threat to medical science or to human life or to science as such. Vocation is responsibility and responsibility is a total response of the whole man to the whole of reality; for this very reason there can be no petty and pedantic restricting of one’s interests to one’s professional duties in the narrowest sense. Any such restriction would be irresponsibility. The essential character of free responsibility makes it impossible to establish laws defining when and to what extent such a departure from the “limited field of accomplishments” forms part of a man’s calling and of his responsibility towards men. Such a departure can be undertaken only after a serious weighing up of the vocational duty which is directly given, of the dangers of interface in the responsibility of others, and finally of the totality of the question involved; when this is done I shall be guided in the one direction or the other by a free responsibility …

© 2009 Association of American Medical Colleges

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