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May 23, 1977

Hippocrates Revisited

Author Affiliations

Golf Mill Professional Building Niles, III
From Golf Mill Professional Building, Niles, Ill.

JAMA. 1977;237(21):2293. doi:10.1001/jama.1977.03270480033014

Ethics deals with right and wrong in human behavior. It indicates obligations and duties; it offers standards; it pronounces certain actions good, others bad. Medical ethics deals with right and wrong in the behavior of physicians when they are acting in their professional capacity.

Professional ethics takes the form of codes—the descriptions of actions deemed good or bad. Even though certain ethical principles might be regarded as universal, eg, the Golden Rule, codes of ethics usually relate to the cultural environment, and thus can vary according to time and place. Well known examples of codes of medical ethics, covering a range of 4,000 years, would include those of Hammurabi, Hippocrates, Maimonides, Percival, and the American Medical Association. There are many others. A recent book (M. B. Etziony, The Physician's Creed: An Anthology of Medical Prayers, Oaths and Codes of Ethics Written and Recited by Medical Practitioners Through the Ages, Springfield, Ill, Charles C. Thomas Publisher, 1973) made a fairly complete listing and can be highly recommended for the historically minded.

I wanted to refer to this book, but the two copies in the library of the AMA had "disappeared." Through interlibrary loan we tried to secure the book from two other medical libraries, only to find that their copies also had disappeared. One librarian, as if in excuse, said that a course in medical ethics was being given just then in the medical school. There is a certain piquancy in this situation—that medical students steal books on medical ethics during a course on medical ethics.

This incident might serve as an introduction to Dr Franzblau's "revision" of the Hippocratic oath. He has propounded a set of values that seem to harmonize with our present cultural environment.

The "revision" is not entirely tongue-in-cheek.

Lester S. King, MD