The Evolution of Medical Ethics

The Hippocratic Oath

Some Interesting Links

Hippocrates Biography

Medicine in ancient Greece

The Hippocratic Oath Today: Meaningless Relic or Invaluable Moral Guide?

The Hippocratic Oath

The Hippocratic oath is an ancient Greek document originating in approximately 400 BCE. No previous drafts of the Hippocratic Oath have been found. The origins have been consistently debated as there is lack of any evidence of the document having been written by Hippocrates.

Historically, the oath has been used to swear in a student at the beginning of a medical apprenticeship. This oath is still used in modern times but has been updated to fit with the contemporary language and culture.

The classic version and the modern version of the Hippocratic oath are included on this site and an important themes are enumerated below.


Important themes of the Hippocratic Oath

The Hippocratic oath covers several important ethical issues between doctors and patients.

The oath first establishes that the practitioner of medicine give deference to the creators, teachers, and learners of medicine. This ensures that the practitioner does not forget his place in the long line of tradition in health. The oath serves as a contract for doctors to work towards the benefit of the health of the public. Other important tenets include maintaining the integrity of the doctor, ensuring the consent of the patients, preventing the exploitation of the patient, maintaining privacy and discretion, and forbidding deadly drugs, abortions, and the act of playing god.

One of the most important ideas codified in the Hippocratic oath is that the physician is accountable for his actions should problems arise. Additionally, it is important for me to note that the Hippocratic oath has an extremely individualistic perspective. The oath provides ethical guidelines for a singular doctor-patient relationship as opposed to a collective ethics code. This individualistic approach to ethics completely changes after the medical experiments of World War II are discovered.