The Hippocratic Oath is an oath historically taken by physicians. It is one of the most widely known of Greek medical texts. In its original form, it requires a new physician to swear, by a number of healing gods, to uphold specific ethical standards. Of historic and traditional value, the oath is considered a rite of passage for practitioners of medicine in many countries, although nowadays various modernized versions are often used.
Scholars widely believe that Hippocrates, often called the father of medicine in Western culture, or one of his students wrote the oath. The original oath was written in Ionic Greek, in the late Fifth Century BCE. It is usually included in the Hippocratic Corpus.
This is the original version of the Hippocratic Oath:
I swear by Apollo the physician, and Aesculapius the surgeon, likewise Hygeia and Panacea, and call all the gods and goddesses to witness, that I will observe and keep this underwritten oath, to the utmost of my power and judgment.
I will reverence my master who taught me the art. Equally with my parents, will I allow him things necessary for his support, and will consider his sons as brothers. I will teach them my art without reward or agreement; and I will impart all my acquirement, instructions, and whatever I know, to my master's children, as to my own; and likewise to all my pupils, who shall bind and tie themselves by a professional oath, but to none else.
With regard to healing the sick, I will devise and order for them the best diet, according to my judgment and means; and I will take care that they suffer no hurt or damage.
Nor shall any man's entreaty prevail upon me to administer poison to anyone; neither will I counsel any man to do so. Moreover, I will give no sort of medicine to any pregnant woman, with a view to destroy the child.
Further, I will comport myself and use my knowledge in a godly manner.
I will not cut for the stone, but will commit that affair entirely to the surgeons.
Whatsoever house I may enter, my visit shall be for the convenience and advantage of the patient; and I will willingly refrain from doing any injury or wrong from falsehood, and (in an especial manner) from acts of an amorous nature, whatever may be the rank of those who it may be my duty to cure, whether mistress or servant, bond or free.
Whatever, in the course of my practice, I may see or hear (even when not invited), whatever I may happen to obtain knowledge of, if it be not proper to repeat it, I will keep sacred and secret within my own breast.If I faithfully observe this oath, may I thrive and prosper in my fortune and profession, and live in the estimation of posterity; or on breach thereof, may the reverse be my fate!
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 which 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.
"First do no harm"
It is a popular misconception that the phrase "First do no harm" (Latin: Primum non nocere) is a part of the Hippocratic oath. Strictly speaking, the phrase does not appear in the oath, though an equivalent phrase is found in Epidemics, Book I, of the Hippocratic school: "Practise two things in your dealings with disease: either help or do not harm the patient".  The exact phrase is believed to have originated with the 19th-century surgeon Thomas Inman.
Modern use and relevance
The oath has been modified numerous times. One of the most significant revisions was first drafted in 1948 by the World Medical Association (WMA), called the Declaration of Geneva. "During the post World War II and immediately after its foundation, the WMA showed concern over the state of medical ethics in general and over the world. The WMA took up the responsibility for setting ethical guidelines for the world physicians. It noted that in those years the custom of medical schools to administer an oath to its doctors upon graduation or receiving a license to practice medicine had fallen into disuse or become a mere formality". In Germany during the Third Reich, medical students did not take the Hippocratic Oath, although they knew the ethic of "nil nocere" - do no harm.
In the 1960s, the Hippocratic Oath was changed to require "utmost respect for human life from its beginning", making it a more secular obligation, not to be taken in the presence of God or any gods, but before only other people. When the Oath was rewritten in 1964 by Louis Lasagna, Academic Dean of the School of Medicine at Tufts University, the prayer was omitted, and that version has been widely accepted and is still in use today by many medical schools.
In the United States, the majority of osteopathic medical schools use the Osteopathic Oath in place of or in addition to the Hippocratic Oath. The Osteopathic Oath was first used in 1938, and the current version has been in use since 1954.
In a 1989 survey of 126 US medical schools, only three reported use of the original oath, while thirty-three used the Declaration of Geneva, sixty-seven used a modified Hippocratic Oath, four used the Oath of Maimonides, one used a covenant, eight used another oath, one used an unknown oath, and two did not use any kind of oath. Seven medical schools did not reply to the survey.
In a 2000 survey of US medical schools, all of the then extent medical schools administered some type of profession oath. Among schools of modern medicine, sixty-two of 122 used the Hippocratic Oath, or a modified version of it. The other sixty schools used the original or modified Declaration of Geneva, Oath of Maimonides, or an oath authored by students and or faculty. All nineteen osteopathic schools used the Osteopathic Oath.
While many Christian versions of the Hippocratic Oath, particularly from the middle-ages, explicitly prohibited abortion, the prohibition is often omitted from many oaths taken in US medical schools today, though it remains controversial. Scribonius Largus was adamant in 43 CE (the earliest surviving reference to the oath) that it precluded abortion.
Lethal injection and the Hippocratic Oath
There has been a large debate on whether doctors administering or facilitating lethal injections to prisoners are breaking the Hippocratic Oath they took.
In 1991, José High was set to be executed in Georgia, United States. The execution team could not gain access to Jose High's vein due to extreme drug use from his past. The execution team brought in a doctor who had critical care training and was an expert at finding deep veins in the human body. Once the doctor was hired for the sole reason of inserting an IV, the doctor at that point became part of the execution team.
Up until this point, doctors would not take part in placing an IV or administering the drugs, but were only there to pronounce the death of the inmate. The execution happened without incident; however, a group of doctors sued the Georgia State Medical Board for not disciplining the doctor, stating that he violated federal law and broke the Hippocratic Oath (although the Hippocratic oath is not legally binding). In response, the Georgia legislature passed laws protecting doctors who take part in lethal injections from civil and criminal prosecution.
Breaking the Hippocratic Oath
There is no direct punishment for breaking the Hippocratic oath in modern times. It can be said that malpractice is the same thing and it carries a wide range of punishments from legal action to civil penalties. In antiquity, the punishment for breaking the Hippocratic oath could range from a penalty to losing the right to practice medicine.
- Declaration of Geneva
- Declaration of Helsinki
- Hospital Corpsman Pledge
- Human experimentation in the United States
- Medical ethics
- Nightingale Pledge
- Nuremberg code
- Oath of Asaph
- Oath of the Hindu physician
- Physician's Oath
- Primum non nocere
- Seventeen Rules of Enjuin
- Sun Simiao
- White Coat Ceremony
- Farnell, Lewis R. (2004) . Greek Hero Cults and Ideas of Immortality : The Gifford Lectures : Delivered in the University of St. Andrews in the Year 1920. Whitefish, Montana: Kessinger Publishing. p. 269. ISBN 978-1-4179-2134-8.
The famous Hippocratean oath may not be an authentic deliverance of the great master, but is an ancient formula current in his school.
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- "Scribonius Largus"
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