Life is short, the art long; Hippocrates once said of the art and science of medicine. The Father of Medicine, Hippocrates, upheld high standards for treating patients and laid down these rules for all to-be physicians to follow. His testament came to be taken as an oath on finishing medical school, as a rite of passage.
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The Hippocratic Oath is the oldest and most widely known treatise on medical ethics. It requires new physicians to swear by numerous healing gods and dictates the duties and responsibilities of the physician while treating patients. There are two versions of the Hippocratic Oath: the original one and the modern one. The need for a revision was felt as drastic procedures like abortions & surgeries became commonplace and medically valid, questioning a physician’s morals anew.
Let’s consider the classical one:
The Classic 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!"
This Hippocratic Oath has been modified and revised several times. In 1960, the words “utmost respect for life from its beginning” were added, making it a more secular concept, not to be taken in the presence of gods but in front of other people.
The Oath was rewritten in 1964 by Dr. Louis Lasagna, Academic Dean at Tufts University School of Medicine and this revised form is widely accepted in today’s medical schools. The modern or revised version of Hippocratic Oath is:
The Revised Hippocratic Oath
"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."
Thus, the classical Oath of Hippocratic involves the triad of the physician the patient and God, while the revised version involves only the physician and the patient, reliving the Gods of a few responsibilities.
Download & print posters of the Hippocratic Oath
Want to get a poster of the Hippocratic Oath for your medical practice? Use these files to can print & frame your posters right away.
– Article contributed by Dr. Rachita Narsaria, MD
- Encyclopaedia Britannica- http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/266652/Hippocratic-oath
- Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, Inc – http://www.aapsonline.org/ethics/oaths.htm#lasagna
- Kenneth A. Feucht, MD, PhD, FACS, Byron Calhoun, MD, FACOG; The Hippocratic and Other Oaths: Past and Present Proposal for an Oath for Christians. Journal of Biblical Ethics in Medicine. Vol 10, Num 116.