China’s First Code of Medical Ethics


Sun Si Miao [581—682 A.D.] was a famous clinician and alchemist. Credited with the first code of ethics for Chinese doctors; less a formal ‘code’, and more the philosophy of a virtuous physician and values that suggest an ethical practitioner. The principles primarily focus upon compassion, justice, beneficence and humility, rather than physician truth-telling and self-importance. 


• First develop compassion, not giving way to wishes, desires, and judgments.

• She sympathizes in her heart with those who experience grief as if she herself has been struck by it.

• She does not ponder her own fortune or misfortune above preserving life and having compassion for it.

• By no means should there arise an attitude of rejection. Sympathy, compassion, and care should develop for whoever suffers from conditions looked upon with contempt by people.

• Treat all patients alike, whether powerful or humble, rich or poor, old or young, beautiful or ugly, resentful relatives or kind friends, locals or foreigners, fool or wise.

• Neither dangerous mountain passes nor the time of day, neither weather conditions nor hunger, thirst nor fatigue, should keep her from helping whole-heartedly.

• She makes a dignified appearance, neither luminous nor somber.

• It is not permissible to be talkative and make provocative speeches, make fun of others, raise one’s voice, decide right from wrong, and discuss other people and their business.

• The wealth of others should not be the reason to prescribe precious and expensive treatments. The object is to help.

• It is inappropriate to emphasize one’s reputation, belittle other physicians, and praise one’s own virtue. Indeed, in actual life someone who has accidentally healed a disease then strides around with head held high, showing conceit, and announcing that no one in the entire world could have measured up; underscoring one’s own merits and abilities. Such conduct has to be regarded as contrary to the teachings of magnanimity. In this respect, all physicians are evidently incurable!

 Adapted in part from articles by Paul Unschuld, Subhuti Dharmananda & S.Y. Tan, MD, and Wendy Brown, Lic. Ac.

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