The medical world generally holds to the Hippocratic Oath, an oath passed down from antiquity to which physicians hold themselves in caring for patients. This oath is mostly a good thing, despite its original form swearing to Greek gods, as it elevates several important principles of good medicine. However, Christian medicine cannot rightly conclude with either such an allegiance to Greek gods nor such earthly principles alone. Christian medicine, since it is embodied in Christian physicians, must aim at the same goals of Christian life, that of loving God and loving neighbor. This is best done by way of “covenantal medicine”. This simply means that the physician “covenants” with a patient to care for them, acknowledging that God is the one who watches over the interaction between them.
Building on the first principle, “Soli Deo Gloria”, Covenantal medicine commits the Christian physician to a system and practice of medical care which loves God by glorifying Him and loves our neighbors by caring for them. This is more than the simple practice of praying with patients or for patients. This is more than kind words and compassionate attention to suffering. Those things are true outworkings of the spiritual life of Christian physicians, but there is more. First, the best for patients is that which glorifies God and answers to God before all other authorities. Second, Christian physicians must design their system of care, those things in the background of actual daily practice, in such a way that they are unencumbered from doing what is right for patients.
Covenantal medicine binds Christian physicians to a higher standard of care than the Hippocratic Oath. The Hippocratic Oath has no greater authority within it which might bind a physician to do what is right and best for patients. One can argue that the medical profession as a whole or a state licensing board serves such a role of overseer. While these “societies” or “boards” serve a role in disciplining the most heinous of medical crimes, they are mere human inventions with human limitations. They cannot preside over each physician encounter, holding the physician to a full standard. Only a Holy and All-knowing God can perform the necessary work of holding physicians accountable to an appropriate standard of care, one which pleases God. So Christian physicians should strive for a “covenant” with their patients which begins with an acknowledgment of their submission to God and continues with the practice of submitting all of their care to the direction of God and His Word. God’s best for each patient as it is worked out through physicians’ care will be the best care the patient could ever receive. Being in line with God’s will for the patient means that it will bring about good for that patient (Romans 8:28).
Covenantal medicine, if it is to be practiced moment by moment in all aspects of patient care, must neither be haphazard nor after the fact. This covenant requires the physician to go beyond prayer and compassionate words and make integrity foundational to the very system in which care is delivered. Today’s medical system is riddled and marred with multiple conflicts of interest. From the billions of dollars spent by our government and the millions earned by drug companies down to the cost of each prescription or lab test, there are conflicts of interest. Physicians, myself included, are not immune to the temptations of ordering more “services” or “products” for their patients when that order profits their own accounts. Why would I want to put myself in that position of choosing between financial gain and patient expense? By focusing all forms of my own revenue into fees paid directly to me and avoiding situations which might appear sketchy (selling products from which I directly profit), I convey to patients that I order labs or supplements or medications for their benefit alone. I want patients to trust my care rather than question my motives.
Covenantal medicine should become the standard of Christian physicians, both glorifying God and blessing patients with trusted care. This care, which first aims to glorify God as ultimate authority, will deliver the most beneficial care to patients through physicians He called for this purpose. By practicing “covenantal medicine”, I have a greater hope that my prayers for patients will be answered with restoration of their health.