The Hippocratic Oath that Isn’t

Though there are a rare few doctors whom I respect, I now know why the medical profession not longer deserves respect or high esteem. In 1964, the modern version of the Hippocratic Oath was written. It eliminates many of the safeguards for the patient and adds in responsibilities that are God’s alone. Let’s take a look at the differences and explore some of the subsequent and yet to come ramifications.

First, do no harm?

Nope. “First, do no harm” does not exist in either the original or the modern oath. The idea, though not the precise wording, of “First, do no harm” exists in the text of Hippocrates. This concept is alluded to in the original oath when it says: “With regard to healing the sick, I will devise and order for them the best diet, according to my judgment and means; and I will take care that they suffer no hurt or damage.” The concept of “First, do not harm” does not appear in the modern oath.

I have used this term with my doctors who were advocating actions that I saw harm in. Not one of them said “That is not in the oath I took.”

Modern doctors are one person death panels?

Possibly. This is in the modern oath:

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 overtreatment 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.

The “awesome responsibility” of taking a life must be faced with “great humbleness?” The taking of life and humility are antithetical. Taking a life is never humble, it is always placing someone or something or some idea ahead of that life.

These are the seeds of the murder of humans in the womb. These are the seeds of euthanasia. In fact, the modern oath deletes the original oath’s specific mention to not poison a patient or abort a pregnant woman:

I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but never with a view to injury and wrong-doing. Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course. Similarly I will not give to a woman a pessary to cause abortion. But I will keep pure and holy both my life and my art. I will not use the knife, not even, verily, on sufferers from stone, but I will give place to such as are craftsmen therein.

Power to murder burdens on the family or society?

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 ... 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.

This sounds fantastic at first, that all doctors are treating a human being rather than battling a disease. It’s what comes next that is shocking. Doctors are called to weigh the affect of the illness on a person’s family and economic stability. Remember, they hold the power to take a life. It is not a far leap to see that the value of human life, according to this oath, is no longer sacrosanct to the individual, but instead an equation of the effect of their contribution or burden on their family (and by extension society), and the doctor is sworn to take this into consideration in how they treat the patient. The value of a human life is impacted, according to the modern oath, by the cost or contribution that person incurs on those around them. No longer is human life valuable because it is human life. Wow.

Humble Servant to the Patient vs. Arrogant Administrator for Society

The original oath has a spirit of humble service to the patient. It refers to entering the patient’s home “for the convenience and advantage of the patient.” It refers to serving the doctor who taught them their art, as well as their children.

The modern oath exudes a cold and calculating spirit in comparison with the original, as an administrator for the general health of family/society.

Can a person of “good will” take the Modern Hippocratic Oath?

I couldn’t. It is antithetical to care for the human person and their innate God-give value, meaning, and purpose. Yet this is the oath most doctors have taken since the mid 1960’s. Read the differences for yourself here.