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A Brief History of Medical Ethics in Iran

Alireza Bagheri,M.D.

A) Ancient times:

In reviewing the history of medicine in Iran, one may extract from the texts that ethical rules had always been part of the medical education. So much so that well-known physicians would allocate part of theirs books on medical education to the education of medical ethics. For example, Razi (865 - 925 AD) is one of the earliest physicians in Iran who was strictly committed to the principles of medical ethics and detested the so-called physicians who used medicine as a means of profiteering. Among his works, there are some pamphlets on principles of medical ethics and some pieces of ethical advice he made to his disciples. Also, Ali ibn Abbas Ahwazi (930 - 994) has a book entitled Kamel al-Sana`at al-Tebbiyah` (A Comprehensive Book of the Profession of Medicine). In its first chapter, he deals with ethical issues in medical profession and gives guidelines.

Avicenna (980-1037), too, has some valuable guidelines in some pamphlets on the methods of teaching medicine and its practice and ways of learning medicine for his disciples.

Inspired by Islamic teachings, Muslim physicians have put much emphasis on ethical principles as a religious issue in their practice as well as education of medicine. Islam puts a great emphasis on ethics; the Messenger of Islam, peace be upon him, stressed that the cause of his prophet-hood was to complete ethical virtues.

B) Contemporary:

After the introduction of modern academic method of medical education in Iran with the first college of medicine, "Dar ul-Fonoon" in the nineteenth century and the foundation of the Faculty of Medicine in Tehran University in 1934, education of medical ethics comprised a minor part of their education. Among the earliest textbooks written particularly for the course of medical ethics was a book entitled "Medical Ethics and Customs" in 1963 by Dr. M.N. Etemadian. In this book, issues such as; Doctor-Patient  relationship, confidentiality, abortion, euthanasia, medical vows, and medical ethics are discussed.

Currently, for medical students, two units (credits) out of 240 were allocated to medical ethics education. This subject is taught in 34 hours in one semester in the third year after the completion of the introductory stage of basic sciences. In this course, students learn about the principles of ethics, desirable qualities of a physician, medical jurisprudence, medical vows, and clinical issues such as abortion, brain death, and ethical matters of research.