Hippocratic Oath

It’s probably sufficient to know that the the Hipocratic Oath is traditionally taken by physicians in which they swear to uphold specific ethical standards. But unless you’re a doctor you’ve probably never had a reason to look into it any further than that. Here’s what you should know.

The oath is credited to Hippocrates and is the earliest expression of medical ethics in the Western world. Hipocrates, born in 460 BC, is referred to as the Father of Early Medicine, and his intellectual Hippocratic School of Medicine revolutionized medicine in ancient Greece.

“First do no harm” (primum non nocere), is often associated with the Hippocratic Oath because it represents the spirit of medical ethics found in the oath and other writings of the Hippocratic School, however it does not actually appear in the oath in this form.

The oath itself is non-binding and there is no penalty for breaking it, however national medical associations have and enforce their own ethical codes, and of course doctors can be held accountable in the courts in cases of medical malpractice.

The oath has been modified many times. While the original oath was written in the name of various Greeks gods, the modern version contains no reference to any religion.

“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.”

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