It’s time to update the modern Hippocratic Oath, says the World Medical Association, a global organization of physicians which currently represents 112 national medical associations. The oath – which, somewhat confusingly, is called the Declaration of Geneva – was drafted 67 years ago, as a response to atrocities committed by Nazi doctors before and during World War II. Since then, only minor revisions have been made.
The WMA says that the ethical obligations of doctors may need to be redrafted to reflect social changes. “In recent decades, respect for patient self-determination has been established as one of the most important principles of medical ethics,” says the WMA. “However, it is not mentioned in the Declaration of Geneva.” The oath should also enjoin “mutual respect between students and teachers”, not just of students for their teachers.
The revision is to be entrusted to an international working group. There have been so many controversial issues in the practice of medicine in the past 70 years – abortion, euthanasia, cosmetic surgery, transgender surgery, on-line medical databases, genetic engineering, assisted reproduction, conscientious objection, to name a few. The working group has its work cut out.
Here is the current text of the Declaration of Geneva.
AT THE TIME OF BEING ADMITTED AS A MEMBER OF THE MEDICAL PROFESSION:
I SOLEMNLY PLEDGE to consecrate my life to the service of humanity;
I WILL GIVE to my teachers the respect and gratitude that is their due;
I WILL PRACTISE my profession with conscience and dignity;
THE HEALTH OF MY PATIENT will be my first consideration;
I WILL RESPECT the secrets that are confided in me, even after the patient has died;
I WILL MAINTAIN by all the means in my power, the honour and the noble traditions of the medical profession;
MY COLLEAGUES will be my sisters and brothers;
I WILL NOT PERMIT considerations of age, disease or disability, creed, ethnic origin, gender, nationality, political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, social standing or any other factor to intervene between my duty and my patient;
I WILL MAINTAIN the utmost respect for human life;
I WILL NOT USE my medical knowledge to violate human rights and civil liberties, even under threat;
I MAKE THESE PROMISES solemnly, freely and upon my honour.
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