Recent Changes May Render Hippocratic Oath Harmful to Patients, Critic Warns

Mary Rettig
Agape Press
February 13, 2006
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Wesley Smith, a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute, says an oath taken by new doctors for centuries is being watered down to allow for more open interpretation. The Hippocratic Oath has been modernized and modified many times since the original was written centuries before Christ's birth; however, Smith asserts, recent changes have crossed the line.

According to Smith, some of the mandatory proscriptions in the physician's oath that require doctors to refrain from doing bad things to patients have been removed. "For example," he notes, "one of the important protections in the Hippocratic Oath is that doctors are not to have sexual relations with their own patients because, obviously, of the potential for exploitation."

Equally disturbing, the Discovery Institute spokesman observes, is the fact that the clause forbidding a doctor to kill a patient has also been removed. He says although the Hippocratic Oath has long been the standard for patient protection as well as an affirmation of the importance of life, it seems it is no longer being seen in the way it was originally intended.

Cornell University has changed the oath yet again, Smith notes, and he regards these latest modifications as seriously detrimental. He says the once active requirements or active pledges, of the Hippocratic Oath are being replaced by "very vague and passive assertions -- for example, to always treat a patient with dignity."

What that means, however, is open to interpretation. "If somebody thinks that euthanasia is dignity," the Discovery Institute fellow point out, "then what you've done is you've opened up euthanasia because the oath no longer specifically prohibits euthanasia."

Hippocratic Oath (Classical Version)
Hippocratic Oath (Modern Version)
Hippocratic Oath (Cornell Medical College Version) (bottom of article)

Smith says the watering down of the Hippocratic Oath is not a new thing; rather, it is an ongoing process. And while most patients still view the oath as their protection, he adds, some members of the medical profession simply do not take it seriously anymore.