The Hippocratic Oath No Longer Used

The Hippocratic Oath No Longer Used
Bust of Hippocrates

In the past, the Hippocratic Oath was a sworn agreement made by medical students when they became doctors. It includes a promise “to share knowledge, to help the ill and not cause harm, and to never give a deadly drug or help another to use one.” Hippocrates (460 to 370 B.C.), a Greek physician known as the “father of medicine,” was concerned with the methods and ethics of medical treatment.

Hippocrates lived at the same time as Socrates, who extolled the doctor. He was in a clan known as the Asklepiads, devotees of Asklepios, a Greek god of health. They swore to the gods to keep themselves “pure and holy,” help the sick, and avoid “wrongdoing and harm to patients.” They vowed not to breach patient confidentiality, perform surgery for which they had not been trained, cause an abortion, poison, euthanize, or sexually abuse a patient.”

The Hippocratic Oath appeared in a collection of some 70 texts called the Hippocratic Corpus. By the 10th century, Christians had replaced Greek divinities in the Hippocratic Oath with the God of the Bible, and medical schools used that version until modern times. By the early 20th century, that began to change. In 1928 only 14 of 79 medical schools required their students to swear the Hippocratic Oath. No medical school in America requires it today.

In recent years, the ethics of medicine has become a major issue. Special interest groups like “Compassion and Choices” advocate for physician-assisted suicide. Laws in several states now allow doctors to prescribe lethal amounts of drugs for use in suicide.

Is the morality of a doctor important when you or a loved one are in declining health? What is the difference between a doctor who believes the body is the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 3:16) and one who believes in survival of the fittest? This is a significant issue for all of us dealing with end-of-life issues, as all eventually will.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: “Bring Back Hippocrates” by Dr. Lydia S. Dugdale, a physician and ethicist at Columbia University in New York, in the Autumn issue of Plough Quarterly.