The Hippocratic Oath is one of the oldest binding documents in history. In this blog post, you'll find both classical and modern versions of the oath as well as a brief article that offers a sense of its controversial nature today. The Oath was written by Hippocrates in the 5th century BC and has been used by physicians ever since. It's even still used to swear-in doctors at Harvard University. But now it seems that some people are questioning whether we should be using it at all!
Hippocrates wrote the oath. It was designed to help people live in a time when we didn't have antibiotics and modern medicine. The oath is about doing no harm, which is what Hippocrates is trying to teach people with his Hippocratic oath.
The Hippocratic oath is not the only thing Hippocrates has done though. Hippocrates has also created a document that was meant to show all of the diseases and treatments in ancient Greece and how they were related to each other. We don't know exactly what it was looked like because it hasn't been found yet.
The main teaching of the Hippocratic method is to not inflict harm on anyone. In an effort to teach this, it should be obligatory for physicians to take the Hippocratic Oath. However, there are some who disagree with this and believe that it would be beneficial to rewrite the oath so that includes how a physician should act in the midst of patients that want a certain form of treatment that may inflict harm on themselves without their knowledge.
Hippocrates would be baffled by the new realities of our medical world. He lived in a time when pestilences unheard of today were ravaging his homeland, and abortion was illegal with painless death being out-of-reach for all. Hippocrates might not have appreciated just how different medicine is now from back then if he traveled to modern-time: where abortions are legal nationwide; and many medical acts are allowed whereas back at that time they were prohibited or technically available. Today a growing number of physicians have come to feel that the Hippocratic Oath is inadequate to address the realities of a medical world
I swear by Apollo Physician and Asclepius and Hygieia and Panaceia and all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will fulfill according to my ability and judgment this oath and this covenant:
To hold him who has taught me this art as equal to my parents and to live my life in partnership with him, and if he is in need of money to give him a share of mine, and to regard his offspring as equal to my brothers in male lineage and to teach them this art—if they desire to learn it—without fee and covenant; to give a share of precepts and oral instruction and all the other learning to my sons and to the sons of him who has instructed me and to pupils who have signed the covenant and have taken an oath according to the medical law, but no one else.
I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice. I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art.
I will not use the knife, not even on sufferers from stone, but will withdraw in favor of such men as are engaged in this work. Whatever houses I may visit, I will come for the benefit of the sick, remaining free of all intentional injustice, of all mischief and in particular of sexual relations with both female and male persons, be they free or slaves.
What I may see or hear in the course of the treatment or even outside of the treatment in regard to the life of men, which on no account one must spread abroad, I will keep to myself, holding such things shameful to be spoken about. If I fulfill this oath and do not violate it, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and art, being honored with fame among all men for all time to come; if I transgress it and swear falsely, may the opposite of all this be my lot.
—Translation from the Greek by Ludwig Edelstein. From The Hippocratic Oath: Text, Translation, and Interpretation, by Ludwig Edelstein. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1943.
I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:
I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.
I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.
I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug.
I will not be ashamed to say "I know not," nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient's recovery.
I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.
I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person's family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick. I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure. I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.
If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.
—Written in 1964 by Louis Lasagna, Academic Dean of the School of Medicine at Tufts University, and used in many medical schools today.