In movies or the television shows which centers on medicine and doctors, we often come across with the Hippocratic Oath being mentioned. So what is the Hippocratic Oath and why is it important in the field of medicine? Who is this man that that has created this oath sworn by our doctors around the world? This man is Hippocrates, is a physician and teacher that have lived more than 2000 years ago. He is regarded as one of the most remarkable physicians in the history of medicine. It is somehow difficult to characterize Hippocrates because his life was associated with many tales and association with the Greek gods.
According to some legends, Hippocrates himself, was a descendant of Asclepius, god of healing and son of Apollo (Sokol, 2008). But Hippocrates was said to live sometime between 460 BC to 377 BC and was born in the Aegen island of Cos in the ancient Greece. He was the son of Heracleides and Praxithea, and belonged to a wealthy family that made it possible for him to have a fine education. He went to a secondary school after nine years of studying. In there, he had a comprehensive athletic training. After that, it is believed that he went as an apprentice of medicine under the care of his father.
His training included going with his father and another doctor named Herodicus, visiting patients and observing their methods of healing. Furthermore, it is believed that he also travelled to the mainland of Greek as well as to Egypt and Libya to further study medicine. (Hippocrates Biography, 2007) History credits Hippocrates as a very excellent physician of that time. Many have noted this trait including Plato who even referred him as the Asclepiades of Cos, descendant of the doctor-god, Ascpelios (Hippocrates, 2009). He was said to have examined and helped heal the king of Macedonia from tuberculosis.
In Athens, he has fought against the plague of bacteria that has spread for three years (430-427 B. C. E. ). In addition, records also show that the peak of his career can be noted during the Peloponnesian War from 431-404 B. C. E. (Hippocrates Biography, 2007) Hippocrates was not only well-admired as an exceptional healer, but also as a remarkable teacher of medicine. The “Tree of Hippocrates”, where he is shown teaching as his students listen to him under a tree, is a good example of how he is revered as a wise teacher. His sons, Thessalus and Draco also became his apprentice on becoming doctors.
He then founded a school of medicine in Cos in 400 B. C. E. (Hippocrates Biography, 2007) The school founded by Hippocrates, the Koan school, became more successful than the other schools of medicine during that time. It was because Hippocratic medicine was “…more general on its diagnoses and more passive in its treatment. The focus… was on patient care, prognosis and not diagnosis (Hippocrates – Biography…, 2009)”. Moreover, Hippocratic medicine has treated many diseases effectively and it led to many developments in the clinical practice of medicine (Hippocrates – Biography…, 2009).
The strength of the Hippocratic medicine lies on the prognosis. It is Hippocrates that first deviated from the thought that diseases were brought about by divine causes. He sought for rational and scientific causes of the diseases. According to Cambridge Encyclopedia (online), concepts of Hippocratic medicine includes: humorism (that illness are due to imbalances of the four humours or body fluids); crisis (a point in the progression of disease at which either the illness would triumph leading to death, or the opposite wherein the natural process would make the patient recover); and vis medicatix naturae (healing power of nature).
Also, it is through strict professionalism, discipline, and rigorous practice that Hippocratic medicine excelled. His teachings and medical philosophies can be seen in the Hippocratic Corpus, wherein around 70 early medical works in the Ancient Greece associated with Hippocrates are collected. (Hippocrates – Biography…, 2009). Perhaps the most famous contribution of Hippocrates in the field of medicine is the Hippocratic Oath, sworn by most medical students as part of their graduation ceremonies before they could become doctors. In general, it is the guideline for the medical ethics of doctors, to be followed strictly and whole-heartedly.
But this Oath is surrounded by a lot of controversies, even questioning if the real author of this oath is indeed Hippocrates. Also, this oath is often misquoted and a lot of revisions have been done to the oath through time. This could be traced in how this oath can be traced in the history of medicine practice. According to Markel (2004), the first recorded Hippocratic Oath taking in medical school was at the University of Wittenberg in Germany in 1508, and it was only in 1804 that it became a standard part of normal graduation ceremonies, when it was incorporated into the commencement exercise in France.
The practice of taking of oath in America increased due to the following reason: 1) the discovery of the killings in the name of medicine during World War II and; 2) the growing interest in bioethics. Now, it is practiced in almost all the medical schools in the US. But there have been a lot of changes in the Hippocratic Oath used in many med schools today. One obvious would be the first line of the original oath wherein the soon-to-be-doctors swear allegiance upon the Greek gods, Apollo, Asclepius, Hygieia, and Panaceia, since tmany now disregard them as gods.
Instead, some versions of the oath tend to exclude mentioning of a spiritual entity, and that spirituality in general is distancing away from the medical science (Markel, 2004). The very controversial and much debated part of the Hippocratic Oath centers on the topic of abortion and euthanasia: “I will not give a fatal draught to anyone if I am asked, nor will I suggest any such thing. Neither will I give a woman means to procure an abortion. ” Abortion and euthanasia has been a topic of countless debates on morality.
The participation in this matter by of doctors, who are supposed to be healers, therefore is questionable. Clearly, the original oath prohibits abortion and euthanasia. But abortion and euthanasia is now legal in some countries including the US. Another controversial issue concerns the participation of doctors during death penalty execution because as the oath clearly state, “I will use my power to help the sick to the best of my ability and judgment; I will abstain from harming or wronging any man by it. ”
Through the changing times and improving medicine practices, the Hippocratic Oath has been revised countless of times. The oath is being questioned as physicians who want to confirm the conditions of the oath. According to the article “Medical groups urge new ethic code”, “Professional medical bodies in Europe and the US have called for a new ethics code for doctors to follow that would give guidelines on controversial issues such as cloning and private health care. (2002)” This group wants a better oath to serve the needs of patients and help the physicians defend the access to care of the people.
Moreover, they want to revise an oath that specifically addresses the current issues in medicine like uneven distribution of resources and the profit motive of many private hospitals (Medical Groups Urge New Ethics Code, 2002). Though the Hippocratic Oath has been revised countless of times, the general content is all the same— “to respect those who have impaired their knowledge upon the science of medicine, and respect to the patients as well as the promise to treat them to the best of the physicians’ ability (The Hippocratic Oath, 2003). ”