An oath attributed to Hippocrates which is still commonly administered to new physicians:
I swear by Apollo the physician, by Aesculapius, Hygeia, and Panacea, and I take to witness all the gods, all the goddesses, to keep according to my ability and my judgement the following Oath:

To consider dear to me as my parents him who taught me this art; to live in common with him and if necessary share my goods with him; to look upon his children as my own brothers, to teach them this art if they so desire without fee or written promise; to impart to my sons and the sons of the master who taught me and the disciples who have enrolled themselves and have agreed to the rules of the profession, but to these alone, the precepts and the instruction. I will prescribe regimen for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgement and never do harm to anyone. To please no one will I prescribe a deadly drug, nor give advice which may cause his death. Nor will I give a woman a pessary to procure abortion. But I will preserve the purity of my life and my art. I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners (specialists in this art). In every house where I come I will enter only for the good of my patients, keeping myself far from all intentional ill-doing and all seduction, and especially from the pleasures of love with women or with men, be they free or slaves. All that may come to my knowledge in the exercise of my profession or outside my profession or in daily commerce with men, which ought not be spread abroad, I will keep secret and will never reveal. If I keep this oath faithfully, may I enjoy my life and practice my art, respected by all men and in all times; but if I swerve from it or violate it, may the reverse be my lot.

Hippocrates of Cos,

    1. I Swear
    2. by Apollo the Physician and by Asclepius and by Health and Panacea and by all the gods as well as goddesses, making them judges
    3. to bring the following oath and written covenant to fulfillment, in accordance with my power and my judgment;
    1. to regard him who has taught me this techne as equal to my parents, and
    2. to share, in partnership, my livelihood with him and to give him a share when he is in need of necessities, and
    3. to judge the offspring [coming] from him equal to [my] male siblings, and
    4. to teach them this techne, should they desire to learn [it], without fee and written covenant, and to give a share both of rules and of lectures, and of all the rest of learning, to my sons and to the [sons] of him who has taught me and to the pupils who have both make a written contract and sworn by a medical convention but by no other.
    1. And I will use regimens for the benefit of the ill in accordance with my ability and my judgment, but from [what is] to their harm or injustice I will keep [them].
    1. And I will not give a drug that is deadly to anyone if asked [for it],
    2. nor will I suggest the way to such a counsel. And likewise I will not give a woman a destructive pessary.
    1. And in a pure and holy way
    2. I will guard my life and my techne
    1. I will not cut, and certainly not those suffering from stone, but I will cede [this] to men [who are] practitioners of this activity.
    1. Into as many houses as I may enter, I will go for the benefit of the ill,
    2. while being far from all voluntary and destructive injustice, especially from sexual acts both upon women's bodies and upon men's, both of the free and of the slaves.
    1. And about whatever I may see or hear in treatment, or even without treatment, in the life of human beings -- things that should not ever be blurted out outside --I will remain silent, holding such things to be unutterable [sacred, not to be divulged],
      1. If I render this oath fulfilled, and if I do not blur and confound it [making it to no effect]
      2. may it be [granted] to me to enjoy the benefits both of life and of techne,
      3. being held in good repute among all human beings for time eternal.
      1. If, however, I transgress and perjure myself,
      2. the opposite of these
Translation by Heinrich Von Staden.

Written in about 400 B.C.E (some place it as early as 600 B.C.E), this oath is the standard for medical conduct and etiquette. When Hippocrates set down this oath it was as a stricter than normal standard for the physicians of that day though it was rapidly accepted by many of his colleagues as a standard for ethics.

There are two parts to the oath. Sections one and two deal with the duties of a student to his teacher and likewise those of the teacher to the student. The second half (sections three through eight) deals with the ethics of the medical profession.

The ethics put forth within the Hippocratic Oath echoes that of the teachings of the Pythagoreans which was rather radical for day.

  • Abortion while practiced in the classical era. In this time, it was accepted to leave a child exposed in the wilderness (such as was told in Oedipus Rex).
  • Suicide as a relief from illness was likewise accepted. Euthanasia was legalized and none of the prevailing major religions in the area made any statements (eternal damnation) about those who committed suicide.
  • Cutting the skin was also up to the individual doctor to do as he thought best.
These three concepts agree with the Pythagorean philosophy outlawing suicide, abortion, and cutting the skin (where the soul is kept).

With the growth of Christianity, the Hippocratic Oath was well received matching its belief on the subjects of abortion and suicide. The only edit of this change in philosophical backing was the modification of section 1.ii - changing the Greek gods to Christian saints. The modern Hippocratic Oath has eliminated section 1.ii so that section 1 reads:

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

Ironically, the Hippocratic oath was not likely written by Hippocrates who advocated a separation of religious beliefs and the supernatural from disease and the treatment.

In a further ironic move, the Hippocratic oath today has moved away from the major tenets. In a 1993 survey of North American medical schools:

  • 14% forbid euthanasia (section 4.i)
  • 8% forbid abortion (section 4.ii)
  • 3% forbid sexual contact with patients (section 7.ii)

Very few medical schools follow the maxim of free tuition for medical students that is mentioned in section 2.iv.

Even with the watered down version that exists today doctors are asking about its relevance to reality

The original oath is redolent of a covenant, a solemn and binding treaty. By contrast, many modern oaths have a bland, generalized air of 'best wishes' about them, being near-meaningless formalities devoid of any influence on how medicine is truly practiced.
Dr. David Graham in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association (12/13/00).

An example of the "modern" Hippocratic Oath reads:

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.

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