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Books, Journals, New Media
September 1, 2004

Hippocratic Oath

Author Affiliations

Books, Journals, New Media Section Editor: Harriet S. Meyer, MD, Contributing Editor, JAMA; David H. Morse, MS, University of Southern California, Norris Medical Library, Journal Review Editor.

JAMA. 2004;292(9):1083-1084. doi:10.1001/jama.292.9.1083

The Hippocratic Oath is one of the most valid of all ancient documents. The United States Supreme Court referred to it in reaching the 1973 Roe v Wade decision. Medical students recite it at graduation. Its definition of medical ethics endures because it represents the fundamental truth that a sick person requires, and is entitled to have, trust in the caregiver.

"The Oath," writes Steven H. Miles, MD, in this book, "simply puts the swearer's character on the line for human judgment on whether the physician has honored the pledges to learn, to teach, to sustain the development of medicine, to benefit the ill, and to shun injustice." This ancient document attributed to Hippocrates helped medicine become a respected profession. Perhaps we need to look at it in more detail to fathom the crisis of trust that lurks in our profession. The oath is selfless and does not deal with economics, institutions, or the politics of medicine. Instead, it clarifies the relationship of doctor to patient and marks the turning point toward scientific medicine and away from healing by superstition, magic, witchcraft, or pseudoreligious metaphors.

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