[P]ublic trust in the leaders of the U.S. medical profession has declined sharply over the past half-century. In 1966, nearly three fourths (73%) of Americans said they had great confidence in the leaders of the medical profession. In 2012, only 34% expressed this view (Harris 1966–2012). But simultaneously, trust in physicians' integrity has remained high. (Public Trust in Physicians—U.S. Medicine in International Perspective)
Doctors and members of Congress have something in common. People put greater trust in the ones they know as individuals than in the profession they comprise. However, the data quoted above suggests that, with respect to doctors, this has not always been so.
Since ancient times, medical professionals have had to cope with the moral dilemma inherent in most, if not all, practical knowledge. Like knives, axes and explosives, knowledge can be used for good or evil. Of course, the sight of your spouse carrying a blood-stained carving knife in the kitchen usually does not trigger the fear response likely to arise if you encounter a stranger carrying a blood-stained ax in your backyard. The difference is trust — from whatever source derived.
If the mythology of its first appearance on the human scene is any indication, the medical profession was born fully aware of the fear even good use of its knowledge is liable to inspire. When circumstances long associated with certain death end, instead, in a miraculous recovery, where some celebrate a miracle, others will see (or purport to see) witchcraft. The fate of the healer thus depends on whether, on balance, the result joyfully enlightens the hearts of bystanders or fearfully darkens their understanding.
To hold my teacher in this art equal to my own parents; to make him partner in my livelihood; when he is in need of money to share mine with him; to consider his family as my own brothers, and to teach them this art, if they want to learn it, without fee or indenture; to impart precept, oral instruction, and all other instruction to my own sons, the sons of my teacher, and to indentured pupils who have taken the physician's oath, but to nobody else.
I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but never with a view to injury and wrong-doing. Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course. Similarly, I will not give to a woman a pessary to cause abortion. ... Into whatsoever houses I enter, I will enter to help the sick, and I will abstain from all intentional wrong-doing and harm, especially from abusing the bodies of man or woman, bond or free.
Like many other beneficent imperatives known to humankind, the good intentions of the Hippocratic Oath were in harmony with the logic of the commands and corresponding heart of love and true charity preached and exemplified by Jesus Christ. So, the Apostle Paul admonished those he instructed:
If it be possible, as much as is in you, have peace with all men. Revenge not yourselves ... but if the enemy be hungry, give him to eat; if he thirst, give him to drink. ... Be not overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:18, 19, 20, 21)
In this admonition, St. Paul conveyed the spirit of Christ when Jesus said:
Give to him that asketh of thee, and from him that would borrow of thee, turn not away. You have heard it hath been said, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thy enemy." But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: That you may be the children of your Father who is in Heaven, who maketh his sun to rise upon the good, and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust. (Matthew 5:42–45)
Like the cloak, Christ also mentions in the context of these instructions that knowledge is a shareable good. But unlike such material things, in the giving it is retained and even strengthened by the giving, so that it can be shared again and again, without diminishment. But through Christ, we come to look upon even our enemies with the eyes of God. So when, in our Christ-like understanding, we come to know something of God's ordering of nature, we are called to share it like the rain from heaven with all who may benefit from its properties. This includes even those that hate us, even those who are not yet one with Christ amongst us.
In the eras before Christ brought, in his very self, Almighty God to dwell amongst humanity, the free giving of knowledge was confined to those who were related, either by way of the flesh or the profession of a common creed. But as members of the body of Christ, we are bound to preach salvation to all. Whatever knowledge we have, we are called to use in view of their true good. Thus, if we learn to heal the body we aim to use our knowledge, as Christ did, to open the hearts and understanding of all who hear us to seek the way of God’s forgiveness, which alone can heal their spirit, saving body and soul in Christ.
Christ says, "I am the way, the truth and the life." For those in Christ, therefore, the way of true knowledge (knowledge of and in truth) is also the way to true life, which is in God. What part of knowledge, therefore, is the way of death? Only the part that leads to Christ's cross and thence to life regained, resurrected and renewed, forever. The assumption that Christian people with medical knowledge are bound to share and use their knowledge only for good and not harm makes more sense than ever.
But with the retreat of the Christian ethos in recent decades, trust in the medical profession, as an institution, has declined. The profession has been overtaken by the perception that the rule of mammon has replaced any semblance of divine authority as its governing principle. Worse still, with abortion and euthanasia now enforced as health care provisions, the age-old expectation that medical professionals must "do no harm" has been replaced by the assumption that harm is now on the agenda. It's no wonder that trust in the medical profession, as such, has drastically declined.
Hospitals named in the Christian tradition once promised healing informed by Christian love and charity. How can it be that people who profess to follow Christ do not understand that the harm done by the perception that we embrace the culture of death has already passed beyond nascent infants, the aged, infirm and mentally disturbed? This apparent abandonment of the truth in Christ and God is helping to undermine the very concept and foundation of the healing profession. Our perceived betrayal of good faith (read: trust) in God and Jesus Christ undoes the trust (read: good faith) people must have in one another. Every abortion, every assisted suicide, every medical judgment preferring certain death to a parent's unyielding hope for the life of their child, erodes it further. People are being done to death in the flesh because so many who profess to live in Christ no longer fight for the life of all in the Spirit of God. Where will it end?
"Whoever has ears to hear, hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Revelation 3:22).