‘First do no harm’ is not in the Hippocratic Oath

6 thoughts on “‘First do no harm’ is not in the Hippocratic Oath”

  1. An interesting and worthy subject, your post here. I note a strong religious thread in the first “modern version” of the oath, not unexpected since religion has dominated the theme of human life and death throughout history. Noteworthy is the injunction against abortion and assisted suicide, something not common to the other two. The extent to which physicians observe such oaths is of course a voluntary exercise, but it is some comfort that guidance is formalized.

    A rather strange thought occurs to me. I wonder if doctors’ respect for patients has diminished in the modern era because so many modern ailments are brought about as a consequence of self indulgence and sedentary lifestyles? If so, how might this affect how they view their oath and how they practice?

    My own maternal gggrandfather, Arthur Asher Baker was a self-taught country doctor in the early days of Berryville, Arkansas, and he too, I have read, paid home visits and often took payment in the form of produce, chickens, and the like. He must have had something on the ball because everything written about him was good.

    Jim

    1. If doctors’ respect for patients has diminished because of the patients’ self-indulgence and sedentary lifestyles, I’m in a world of hurt. But if my doctor feels that way, she’s hiding it extraordinarily well.

      I wonder how much new doctors really think about the meaning of the oath as they recite it. Exhausted, possibly disillusioned, relieved to be finishing that stage of their education, they may throw off those words like we would a swearing in, in a courtroom. But it is always there as a reminder to contemplate in quiet moments, and it reminds us all of how noble the aspirations are, even if they aren’t always reached.

      I always thought of my dad as Marcus Welby personified. And as far as I ever heard from anyone, everyone else thought of him that way too. I used to go with my dad when he made house calls, and wait in the car when he went inside. Medicine sure has changed since those days. And despite all the modern advances, I think I’d rather have back the doctor-patient relationships we used to have.

    2. I love that question! “I wonder if doctors’ respect for patients has diminished in the modern era because so many modern ailments are brought about as a consequence of self indulgence and sedentary lifestyles? If so, how might this affect how they view their oath and how they practice?” As a nurse leader that is a most compelling question. I am off to pursue that answer today.

      1. It might depend a lot on what doctors expect when they go into medicine in the first place, and their individual attitudes. Most younger practitioners were probably well aware of what they’d be dealing with when they became doctors and chose their specialties. I would hope if there’s too little respect there, they would not have become doctors in the first place.

    1. I wrote this way back in 1997, when I was still working as a medical editor/publisher. It was important to me to get the full story, as best I could, and get it right. Even I, a doctor’s daughter, had grown up thinking “First, do not harm” was from the Hippocratic Oath.

Now that I've had my say ...

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