Dr. Robert F. Kidd    

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The Hippocratic Oath

The Hippocratic Oath was created to articulate a new approach to the practice of medicine. Previous to this time (several centuries before Christ) the role of a physician was essentially that of a witch doctor. The physician was "for hire", to either cure or to kill. Under certain circumstances, he would be asked to treat a sick person. At other times he would be asked for a potion, or a spell, to kill an enemy. It is likely that the pre-Hippocratic physician would have responded to the highest bidder.

Hippocrates (and/or his followers) understood the fundamental contradiction of physicians assuming these dual roles. They saw that physicians would practice more effectively if they earned the trust of their patients. This meant not only turning away from killing (euthanasia and induced abortion), but also practicing with the patient's best interest paramount, and by leading pure personal lives. They recognized that high standards could be achieved only by appealing to the transcendental, thus the appeal to the gods of their time.

In recent years, physicians are again being asked by society to kill. The Hippocratic Oath is no longer required of new medical graduates and patients again have reason to question their physicians about where they stand.

The ancient Hippocratic oath has been translated more or less as follows:

I swear by Apollo, Physician and Aesclepius, Hygeia and Panacea and all the gods and goddesses, making them my witness, that I will fulfil according to my ability and judgement, this oath and this covenant:

To hold him who has taught me this art as equal to my parents and to live in partnership to 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 brother in male lineage and to teach them this art - if they deserve 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 taken an oath according to the medical law, but to no one else.

I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgement; I will keep them from harm and injustice.

I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly, I will not give 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 from sufferers from stone, but will withdraw in favour of such men as are engaged in this work.

Whatever house I 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.

Whatever I may see or hear in the course of the treatment or even outside 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 fulfil this oath and do not violate it, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and art, being honoured 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.

A more modern (and condensed) rendering is as follows:

I swear in the presence of the Almighty and before my family, my teachers, and my peers that according to my ability and judgement, I will keep the Oath and Stipulation:

To reckon all who have taught me this art equally dear to me as my parents and in the same spirit and dedication to impart a knowledge of the art of medicine to others. I will continue with diligence to keep abreast of advances in medicine. I will treat without exception all who seek my ministrations, so long as the treatment of others is not compromised thereby, and I will seek the counsel of particularly skilled physicians where indicated for the benefit of my patient.

I will follow that method of treatment which according to my ability and judgement I consider for the benefit of my patient and abstain from whatever is harmful or mischievous. I will neither prescribe nor administer a lethal dose of medicine to my patient even if asked, nor counsel any such thing, nor perform act or omission with direct intent deliberately to end a human life. I will maintain the utmost respect for every human life from fertilization to natural death and reject abortion that deliberately takes a unique human life.

With purity, holiness and beneficence I will pass my life and practice my art. Except for the prudent correction of an imminent danger, I will neither treat any patient nor carry out any research on any human being without the valid informed consent of the subject or the appropriate legal protector thereof, understanding that research must have as its purpose the furtherance of the health of that individual. Into whatever patient setting I enter, I will go for the benefit of the sick and will abstain from every voluntary act of mischief or corruption and further from the seduction of any patient.

Whatever in connection with my professional practice or not in connection with it I may see or hear in the lives of my patients which ought not to be spoken abroad I will not divulge, reckoning that all such should be kept secret.

While I continue to keep this Oath unviolated may it be granted to me to enjoy life and the practice of the art and science of medicine with the blessing of the Almighty and respected by my peers and society, but should I trespass and violate this Oath, may the reverse be my lot.