Week 4 – “Human Body and Medicine” by Derek Spitters

I am a biochemistry major and plan on going to medical school. Therefore, I will hopefully end up taking The Oath of Hippocrates in some form at some point in my life. However, I am certain that I could not take this oath in its original form. The Oath of Hippocrates was written in the 4th century BCE and is no longer completely applicable to our modern society. There are many aspects of the oath that I do not agree with. For example, one must swear to a set of gods which are no longer relevant and which may be offensive to certain cultures. Additionally, the oath states that one must split patient fees with his or her teacher. Medical students should not have to financially support their teachers indefinitely. Furthermore, the oath stipulates that the sons of physicians be given preferential treatment regarding consideration for medical school, which is grossly unfair and unethical. Perhaps one of the biggest problems with the Oath of Hippocrates is that it forbids general physicians from performing surgery. At the time when this was written, surgery was thought to be beneath doctors and was performed by barbers. In modern times, it is necessary for all physicians to have at least some basic knowledge of surgery. Something else that should be removed from the oath is its restriction on abortions and euthanasia. I do not mean to take a position on either of these issues, but until our society has come up with a definitive conclusion, I do not believe that either of these things should appear in an oath taken by all physicians.

Despite its many shortcomings, the Hippocratic Oath also has many positive aspects. Most importantly to give good advice, keep the patient from harm, have only good intentions, and maintain doctor-patient confidentiality. The modern version of the oath embodies and expands upon these ideals. Written by Louis Lasagna, this version does not include any of the statements from the Hippocratic Oath that I found problematic. One of the most significant improvements of this version is that it emphasizes the human element of medicine. It reminds physicians that they are treating actual people, not just a list of symptoms. Another vial improvement is that it mentions the importance of prevention, which is preferable to a cure. In my opinion, the original Hippocratic Oath should not be followed explicitly. On the other hand, this does not mean that it is useless. The spirit of the oath is important, and its overall message, that physicians have certain moral obligations, has not changed. Conversely, Lasagna’s revised oath is much more appropriate for modern times, and should be followed as closely as possible. There are other updated versions of the oath, which are also commonly used, such as The Prayer of Maimonides and The Declaration of Geneva (http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A1103798).

It is interesting to note that both the original oath and Lasagna’s version refer to practicing medicine as an art. It is clear that medicine is one of many points where art and science meet. People have interpreted this statement in different ways. Some would argue that there is an art to maintaining the heath of a fellow human being or saving a life. Others focus more on physical beauty. Cosmetic surgery has become an art form in some peoples’ minds. This is an idea that artist Orlan took to heart (http://www.orlan.net/), as seen in the video we watched during lecture.

Oath of Hippocrates:

–Derek Spitters

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