Maybe you’ve heard of the Hippocratic Oath? Hippocrates, the father of western medicine, is believed to have written the oath, over 2300 years ago. The original oath has many statements that are ignored, even contradicted by current medical practice. It begins, for example with the physician swearing by several gods: Apollo, a god of medicine and disease; Asclepius, the healing god; and his daughters: Hygieia, the goddess of health and cleanliness; and Panacaea, the goddess of universal remedy.
Today, few doctors, if any, believe in the exact wording of the original Hippocratic Oath. Few doctors take this oath. It’s time to replace it.
Many take a similar oath based on the original oath. Several people have worked to create a better oath, more up to date and more appropriate for today’s medical practitioners.
Many of today’s medical schools use the oath written in 1964 by Louis Lasagna, Academic Dean of the School of Medicine at Tufts University, often referred to as the “Modern Oath”. This oath no longer references the Greek Gods, but it replace them with the god of science, with the statement “I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk“. It is, perhaps, too easy to accept the “god of science”, without recognizing that it is simply a more sophisticated faith, or belief- and without recognizing that the god of science also has flaws, and is often misused to earthly goals.
It is interesting to see things in the original Hippocratic Oath, that are omitted in the modern oath. The original oath stated: “With regard to healing the sick, I will devise and order for them the best diet, according to my judgment and means“. This statement does not exist in the modern oath of physicians, and apparently does not exist in the oath of hospitals, clinics, and other places that care for the sick.
The Hippocratic Oath speaks of the physician’s “duty to cure“, whereas the modern oath states “prevention is preferable to cure” and does not speak to the duty of a physician. In truth, modern medicine seldom aims to cure – preferring to catalog and administer ‘diagnosis and treatments’. Most of today’s medicines simply do not cure.
There are several other Oaths, used by different medical schools, including the Ostopathic Oath, the Oath of Maimonides, and several variations of each. The oath of Ayurvda and Traditional Chinese Medicine’s letter of morality have similar content.
The key to understanding these oaths is that they are oaths of professionalism, not oaths of medicine, health, nor healing. Each oath speaks more to the power and respect, and the professional need to avoid abuse of this power and respect – than to the actual treatment of patients.
The Hippocratic Oath contains ten basic statements. Seven are about professional ethics. Two are about the duty of the physician to the patient. One, which might be re-worded as “do not administer death”, lies on the boundary between duty to the patient and duty to the profession.
The Modern Oath – the oath used by most medical schools today, also has 10 basic statements. Of those, seven are about professional ethics. Three, more or less, are about the duty to the patient, although the word duty is not actually used.
I believe we need the Hippocratic Oath, in its various versions to protect ourselves from the power of physicians – and to protect the profession of physicians. But the several oaths, say little about health. What should a ‘healthicine oath’ say?
When most people think of the Hippocratic Oath, they think “do no harm”. The actual English translation of the oath is more complex, addressing both healing and ethics, stating: “I will, according to my ability and judgment, prescribe a regimen for the health of the sick; but I will utterly reject harm and mischief“.
We need an oath of healthicine. The Hippocratic Oath, and many variations, address the professionalism of the physician. The health of the patient is almost an afterthought. The health of the general public is only addressed through references to ‘prevention’ of disease.
Health is the best preventative. Health is the best cure, the only cure. – the Healthicine Creed.
The Healthicine Oath, can be stated simply as:
Create and improve healthiness. Do good.
When we ‘create and improve healthiness‘, we prevent illness. When we create an improve healthiness, we cure illness. When we create and improve healthiness, we help people to deal with, to live with their illnesses, those illnesses we cannot cure immediately.
When we say ‘do good‘ we improve on the Hippocratic Oath, which aims, for the most part, to avoid doing harm. We can do better We can do good. When we create and improve healthiness, we do good. When we do good, we create and improve healthiness.
The Healthicine Oath is not about which doctor you call, not about the professional associations of doctors, it is about patients: create and improve healthiness. It is about what doctors and all health and medical practitioners can to to create and improve healthiness: do good. It is not just about patients, it is about the public, about the community of people. Create an improve healthiness is important, not just when we are ill. It is more important when we are well. We are well most of the time. When we create and improve healthiness, even when we are well, we prevent illness.
Once we accept the goal: create and improve healthiness; we face a new reality.
We need to study health. We need learn how to create and how to improve healthiness. Today, we are constrained by medical mindset, by medical oaths, which address the sick and ignore the healthy, ignore healthiness. We can do better. We can do good.
to your health, tracy
Tracy is the author of two books about healthicine: