Leo Sher, M.D.
The Hippocratic Oath is one of the most widely known of Greek medical texts. It requires a new physician to swear that he will uphold a number of professional ethical standards. It is widely believed to have been written by Hippocrates or by one of his students. Hippocrates of Cos or Hippokrates of Kos (ca. 460 BC – ca. 370 BC) was an ancient Greek physician of the Age of Pericles (Classical Athens). Hippocrates was ahead of his time in believing that diseases had natural causes, not supernatural ones, and that people could cure diseases. Hippocrates is considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine and referred to as the father of Western medicine.
The original, ancient oath is a truly humanistic text. It contains valuable moral and ethical constraints and imperatives that are essential for those serving fellow people. The Hippocratic Oath has remained in Western civilization as an expression of the ideal conduct for the physician.
The Hippocratic Oath is a sign of personal importance, commitment, and solemnity, just as when we mark the birth of our children, choose life’s partners, and bury our dead. The Hippocratic Oath is relevant for me on every day of my life in the medical profession in which I am honored to be a member.
The original version of the Hippocratic Oath:
“I swear by Apollo the physician, and Asclepius, and Hygieia and Panacea and all the gods and goddesses as my witnesses, that, according to my ability and judgement, I will keep this Oath and this contract:
To hold him who taught me this art equally dear to me as my parents, to be a partner in life with him, and to fulfill his needs when required; to look upon his offspring as equals to my own siblings, and to teach them this art, if they shall wish to learn it, without fee or contract; and that by the set rules, lectures, and every other mode of instruction, I will impart a knowledge of the art to my own sons, and those of my teachers, and to students bound by this contract and having sworn this Oath to the law of medicine, but to no others.
I will use those dietary regimens which will benefit my patients according to my greatest ability and judgement, and I will do no harm or injustice to them.
I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion.
In purity and according to divine law will I carry out my life and my art.
I will not use the knife, even upon those suffering from stones, but I will leave this to those who are trained in this craft.
Into whatever homes I go, I will enter them for the benefit of the sick, avoiding any voluntary act of impropriety or corruption, including the seduction of women or men, whether they are free men or slaves.
Whatever I see or hear in the lives of my patients, whether in connection with my professional practice or not, which ought not to be spoken of outside, I will keep secret, as considering all such things to be private.
So long as I maintain this Oath faithfully and without corruption, may it be granted to me to partake of life fully and the practice of my art, gaining the respect of all men for all time. However, should I transgress this Oath and violate it, may the opposite be my fate.”
The original version of the Hippocratic Oath was translated by Michael North, National Library of Medicine, 2002.