Medical laws and ethics of Babylon as read in Hammurabi’s code (History)
Mohamad Said Maani
The Internet Journal of Law, Healthcare and Ethics.
principle, the human body represents a forbidden existence in nature,
saved and protected against violation which may endanger life. It is in
all religions and in man-made ethical and moral code of laws. It allows
violating the body integrity in treatment and surgery by consent, on
condition that this interference in the human body is limited
specifically to those cases that would benefit Health. Hammurabi’s Code
of Laws was considered the first documented Code ever used by human
civilization in Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization, the land of
Assyro-Babylonian culture. We considered to study the text to see the
interface between medicine and law in the dawn of civilization.
Method: Studying the translated preserved copy of
the code and review of literature in Law and medicine to indicate the
relevant items which cast a light on the status of law in Ancient
civilization of Babylon in Mesopotamia.
Results: There were 282 laws, dealing with all
aspect of public life, citizen’s rights and limits and the Babylon
Kingdome’s justice system. The following laws are missing: Law numbered
(13) and Laws numbered (66-99 inclusive). The Code of Hammurabi
described a scaled fee schedule for surgical services, which was linked
to the outcome of the surgery so if not met, resulted in severe
penalties, required documentation of diseases and therapies, included
prescription benefits. The code fully explained patient’s rights
according of proclaimed King’s Code.
Discussion: This study elucidated a glimpse on
ancient Mesopotamia’ society social and judicial order. It gives flavor
of rough justice of (Eye for eye) principle. The code by its nature
does not show how these laws were implemented. On the other hand due to
difficulties in understanding the archeological clay tablets preserved
till today did not cast light on the total picture. Hammurabi made the
first declaration of human rights in history:"To cause justice to
prevail in the land. . ., that the strong may not oppress the weak. .
.". The practice of medicine was regulated by the state. Malpractice
was recognized and was punishable by law. Hammurabi’s Code of Law
specified: "If a surgeon performs a major operation on an ‘awelum’
(nobleman), with a lancet and caused the death of this man, they shall
cut off his hands". Hammurabi also specified fees for lifesaving
operations: "Ten shekels of silver for ‘awelum’, five shekels for
‘mushkenu’ (poor man) and two shekels for a slave."
Conclusion: The surgical care was authoritarian;
there were possibility of legal actions to insure justice and equity
particular to each social class in the kingdom. The Code of Hammurabi
can be considered the genesis of the current concepts of health care.
There is no final answer. Human civilization continues the drive for
better condition of deals committing the justice system to the echo of
the society. There is no absolute solution.