Thursday, September 9, 2010

Islamic contributions to medicine

It is easy in today's world, especially when anything Islamic is receiving such bad press, to forget how important the Islamic civilization was in the development of modern medicine. While medieval Europe languished in darkness, it was the Islamic civilization that carried the torch for medical education, research and practice.

While we look to Hippocrates as a 'father of medicine', it was probably ibn Sina (Avicenna) who should best be regarded as the 'father of modern medicine'. But sadly, we remember Hippocrates and too readily forget ibn Sina.

Few also realize that the idea of hospitals ( although the word derives from the hospices of medieval Europe), was most likely copied in idea and design from the Islamic centres of excellence. There was licensing of physicians and the hospitals were sophisticated, well organized institutions that were way in advance of what Europe had. It was probably the returning Crusaders who brought some of these ideas back to Europe.

The practice of medicine was held to a much higher standard of ethics than was in Europe. The treatise by Adab al-Tabib (Conduct of a Physician) is well known, though not by those of us with a narrow European perspective of medicine.

He writes:
'If the patient and the one who serves him understand, then the physician describes the remedies to them and allows them to go on with the therapy If it is not understood, then he must, with his own hands, undertake the treatment that is necessary; he (i.e. the physician) does not explain anything to (the patient). In maintaining silence as to the diagnosis for one who would not understand, in case of error, it is better for the patient and for the physician. After he has completed the visit to his patient he must return to the above mentioned office to treat any of the patients and to understand the problems.'

'The physician must better his relationship to and endure the distress of the patients. He must pay attention to any statement heard from them. No matter what the circumstances, he must acquire information from anywhere or anything which may prove beneficial to the recovery of the patient. The physician must not discourage any complaints of the patient or display of his distress since these symptoms which occur may be important in the diagnosis of the illness. The physician must show mercy; this is not possible except by the fear of God. If the physician has these traits, then he speaks only the truth and does good for all the people.'

We can definitely learn more than a thing or two from the Islamic civilization.