ON STRIKING DOCTORS: In Defence of the Hippocratic Oath

Doctors are a fraternity. Let us agree on that at once. Common folklore and popular press have long painted a romantic portrait of the typical doctor; a secretive, money-hungry quack protected by his own. In all fairness the Hippocratic Oath does weigh heavily on that. It bestows on the art of medicine an oath of brotherhood ordained by the Greek gods themselves. Apollo, Aesculapius and Hygeia were among the gods all doctors swore on. I find it interesting that doctors made oaths TO gods and not to fellow men. In essence the oath was not meant for patients but for gods who were thought to be the ultimate protectors of mortals’ health and well-being.

A naughty argument can be proposed here that by virtue of the Hippocratic Oath being based on long-debunked Greek mythology, its merits are thus annulled by the shear force of overwhelming spiritual allegiance viz Christianity, Islam, Judaism et cetera which in turn translates to swearing an oath to these ‘false gods’ as blasphemy in itself. As a Christian doctor myself I never took the Hippocratic Oath. I refused to swear upon gods whom I do not know. It follows that any true Christian who believes in the same God I believe in will not bring up and throw the Hippocratic Oath in my face when I withdraw my services in protest against personal injustice. The same applies for my fellow Muslim and Jewish doctors. Religion in itself nullifies the Hippocratic Oath as a hard and fast rule of how the rights and commitments of a doctor should be viewed.

The second part of the Hippocratic Oath basically seals the fraternity paradox. It defines the profession as a family; – “I will pay the same respect to my master in the science (arts) as I do to my parents, and share my life with him and pay all my debts to him. I will regard his sons as my brothers and teach them the science, if they desire to learn it, without fee or contract.” Of cause this is way way outdated!! If this does not nullify the Hippocratic Oath as an outdated piece of literature that should be studied more by Greek History graduates than by medical students then I honestly do not know what will.

The proceeding paragraphs moderate the tone by their pragmatic sound; primum non nocere. Simple translation: first of all do no harm….even to an unborn fetus. Oh yes, that’s right. The Hippocratic Oath EXPLICITLY  forbade doctors from performing abortions. If you believe in the right to choice and favour abortions then again you do not have the right to throw the Hippocratic Oath into a doctor’s face. The simple logic is either you take all of it or none of it. The rest of the Hippocratic Oath delineates the fundamental ethics of the profession; ‘know your limit’, ‘know when to refer’, confidentiality and integrity. It is unfortunate that every critic of the profession chooses to restrict his arguments to these later passages without taking the whole document in its entirety.

This Oath has become a heavy load on the modern doctor. His actions are judged according to a mythical oration’s interpretation of the code of ethics which should govern how ‘physicians’ drilled holes into the skulls of patients who were ‘hysterical’ to let the bad spirits out of their minds. The document is as old as the ‘medicine’ it pays reverence to. It simply does not have a place in modern society. Its significance is as hallowed as the Magna Carter but that does not mean the Queen of England lies between the Bishop and God Himself.






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