John Gregory, Thomas Percival, and Medical Ethics

Although the Hippocratic writers enjoined physicians to do no harm, modern medical ethics – as a specific subject to be pondered over – dates from the writings of two British physicians: John Gregory (1724-1773) and Thomas Percival (1740-1804). They recognized the need of physicians to remain knowledgeable and competent while at all times placing the patient’s welfare above their own interests. This, and the obligation to improve medical care and pass it on to future generations, was a public trust, defining medicine as a profession and contrasting it with self-interested merchant guilds. Percival felt the profession should be self-regulating, a feature that dominated medicine until the mid-20 th Century. Gregory on the other hand advocated public scrutiny of medical practice by those outside the profession and this attitude now dominates, sometimes to the chagrin of practicing physicians most exposed to the realities of patient care.


McCullough, LB: Medicine as a Profession. J Med Philos 2015;40:1–7.

Boyd KM: Medical ethics: principles, persons, and perspectives: from controversy to conversation. J Med Ethics 2005;31:481–486.

Submitted by Ron Fishman from the Cogan Ophthalmic History Society.

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Jan 7, 2017 | Posted by in OPHTHALMOLOGY | Comments Off on John Gregory, Thomas Percival, and Medical Ethics

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