Back to the source: the Hippocratic Oath re-examined


Big Stock Photo 

Over the centuries the Hippocratic Oath has expressed the ideals of the medical profession, although nowadays other versions have supplanted it for graduating medical students– if they take any oath at all. If taken literally the Oath is an anachronism. Who today “swears by Apollo Physician, by Asclepius, by Hygieia, by Panacea, and by all the gods and goddesses”?

But T. A. Cavanaugh, a philosopher at the University of San Francisco, argues in his recent book Hippocrates' Oath and Asclepius' Snake: The Birth of the Medical Profession that the Oath is still relevant in establishing the fundamental ethics of the medical profession—to help and not to harm the sick.

Steeped in Hellenic culture and philosophy, Cavanaugh argues that deliberate iatrogenic harm, especially the harm of a doctor choosing to kill (physician assisted suicide, euthanasia, abortion, and involvement in capital punishment), amounts to an abandonment of medicine as an exclusively therapeutic profession.

Medicine as a profession, Cavanaugh contends, necessarily involves declaring the good one seeks and the bad one seeks to avoid on behalf of the sick. The idea of taking an oath implies that doctors set boundaries around what they are permitted to do. Medicine must reject the view that it is purely a technique lacking its own unique internal ethic.

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge.




MORE ON THESE TOPICS | hippocratic oath

This article is published by Michael Cook and BioEdge under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

 
 Search BioEdge

 Subscribe to BioEdge newsletter
rss Subscribe to BioEdge RSS feed

 
comments powered by Disqus