By Norma Erickson
April 22, 2011 at 3:44 pm
Almost since the dawn of medicine, practitioners of the art have subscribed to and sworn to uphold the Hippocratic Oath. Medical professionals publicly promised to uphold the values and practices contained in this Oath for the benefit of their patients. Apparently, this is not the case for the American Medical Association.
The SaneVax Team recently discovered that not only does the American Medical Association not support the Hippocratic Oath – they demanded a formal apology from a website administrator who had the unmitigated gall to say the AMA was involved in creating a modern version of the Oath of Hippocrates.
The words of this formal apology are as follows:
We owe the American Medical Association our profound and sincere apology. The so-called Modern Oath of Hippocrates which had previously been on this site is incorrect. Although we received the “Modern Oath” from a reliable medical doctor, unfortunately that oath did not originate from the AMA.
The AMA has been kind enough to do some in-house research to determine if the Modern Oath on this site had somehow originated from the AMA. It had not. The AMA has a code of ethics, but there is, in fact, no version of the Hippocratic Oath that the AMA espouses or promotes. This is the information we have received from the AMA’s Ethics Division.
Traditionally upon graduation from medical school, new medical professionals swore to uphold basic moral and ethical principles in relation to how and why they practiced the art of medicine. As late as 1993, 98% of medical schools still administered some form of the Hippocratic Oath upon graduation. This oath was intended to make a public statement of their commitment to maintain professional standards and accept personal responsibility for the health and well-being of their patients. The Oath provided public evidence of how physicians would conduct themselves when making the difficult decisions they encounter throughout their professional lives.
Although the wording of the Hippocratic Oath has changed through the centuries, the basic principles remained the same. The following version of the Oath was written in 1964, by Dr. Louis Lasagna Academic Dean of the School of Medicine at Tufts University:
- 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 to 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.
Why the AMA has chosen not to support this Oath is not known. They chose to replace a public promise with a set of ethical guidelines they call Principles of Medical Ethics. In their own words, these principles no longer constitute a solemn oath to the public; instead they ”are not laws, but standards of conduct which define the essentials of honorable behavior for the physician.”
Defining the essentials of honorable behavior is a far cry from swearing a public oath to live by those essentials. The SaneVax Team believes the reason the AMA has chosen to replace the public Oath of Hippocrates may be best stated by quoting Hippocrates himself. The first Law of Hippocrates states:
“Medicine is of all the arts the most noble; but, owing to the ignorance of those who practice it, and of those who, inconsiderately, form a judgment of them, it is at present far behind all the other arts. Their mistake appears to me to arise principally from this, that in the cities there is no punishment connected with the practice of medicine (and with it alone) except disgrace, and that does not hurt those who are familiar with it. Such persons are the figures which are introduced in tragedies, for as they have the shape, and dress, and personal appearance of an actor, but are not actors, so also physicians are many in title but very few in reality.”