Nation on the March

Nation on the March
Nation on the March

Nov 25, 2009

Hippocrates, a solemn oath for doctors and for all of us.

Hippocrates (c. 460-c. 377 bc), greatest physician of antiquity, regarded as the father of medicine. He taught for money, was famous enough in his own lifetime to be mentioned by Plato and Aristotle, and died in Larissa, Greece; little else is known about him.

Hippocratic Oath
The Hippocratic Oath is one of the oldest binding documents in history.  
Written in antiquity, its principles are held sacred by doctors to this day: treat the sick to the best of one's ability, preserve patient privacy, and teach the secrets of medicine to the next generation, and so on.
"The Oath of Hippocrates," holds the American Medical Association's Code of Medical Ethics (1996 edition), "has remained in Western civilization as an expression of ideal conduct for the physician."
Today, most graduating medical-school students swear to some form of the oath, usually a modernized version. Indeed, oath-taking in recent decades has risen to near uniformity, from just 24 percent of U.S. medical schools administering the oath in 1928 to nearly 100 percent today.
"The original oath is redolent of a covenant, a solemn and binding treaty," writes Dr. David Graham in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association (12/13/00). "By contrast, many modern oaths have a bland, generalized air of 'best wishes' about them, being near-meaningless formalities devoid of any influence on how medicine is truly practiced."


The Hippocratic Oath:
(one of the modified modern versions)
  • 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 over treatment 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.
Written in 1964 by Louis Lasagna, Academic Dean of the School of Medicine at Tufts University, and used in many medical schools today.

When Hippocrates  was nearing the end of his life,  his mind turned to young men who had come to study medicine under him in recent years. They certainly were ambitious, serious minded and well-intentioned people, but what about values , ideals and principles? What about sterling  character  and high personal integrity, so vital in their chosen  profession?

He had written  more than 60 books  about the science of medicine and its practice. Yet,  there was one thing he must write : an oath of integrity, a code of standards and ideals to which the physicians would swear  to adhere. In the practice of their profession,.
He would ask all physicians , now and forever,  to live upright and honest lives,  to be loyal and devoted in the care of their patients, to be generous, just and kind. He would ask all physicians to take this oath.

Written more than 20 centuries ago, the Hippocratic  Oath has inspired generations of doctors.  Thousands of physicians have framed copies on their walls along with their degrees.

Though it was written specifically for physicians, the Oath  sets an enduring pattern of honour, integrity and devotion to duty for all people, in all professions.

The most honourable and ever adamant Socrates is reputed for his golden words: “Acquit me, or do not acquit me; but be sure that I shall not alter my way of life, no, not if I have to die for it many times.”

Ulysses Grant said: “No personal consideration should stand in the way of performing a public duty.”

William Shakespeare wrote these famously beautiful lines:

Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls;
Who steals my purse steals trash;  ‘tis something,
Twas mine, ‘tis his, and has been slave to
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.

This reminds one  what renowned modern Gujarati thinker Gunvant Shah wrote  in Asitva No Utsav- Ishavasyam ” (अस्तित्व नो उत्सव)  about offices where public dealing takes place:

In our ‘busy’ public offices , rigidity occupies the chairs and delays are spread out thickly on the tables. Files follow the first law of Newton hence pile up & move with great difficulty. Millions of people waste their  precious hours every day in chasing them . Time was  created as though for wasting only.  Life is wasted away also like this only. It must be remembered that the person,  who does not engross himself diligently in  doing the work allotted to him and the  job  that is accepted by him as the source of his daily bread,  can never be a truly religious person. There are some dumb office-goers who while away their time in office by avoiding office duties and using office hours to write repetitively "Ram, Ram" ( राम,  राम ) few thousand  times in the  note book! He thus neglects the human Ram who has taken pains to follow up his pending matter. This type of so-called religiousness has been nurtured by some so-called holy men who run their establishments as shops and forever are hunting for new customers.”

He further writes:  “If I have my way, I will have the following sign board in each and every office:
“I am being paid salary for doing my work.
I will ensure that the matter for which you have
 come  will be promptly attended, provided it is proper  and rightful  to do so.
I am not at all obliging you when I do that work
but I am only  doing my duty.
Do not insult and degrade me by offering bribe or temptation.
I feel proud to be a self-respecting  human being.

Hearing about this sign board, Hippocrates should sleep peacefully in his grave.


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