I've wondered how physicians could justify performing abortions or euthanasia without breaking the Hippocratic Oath.
I grew up thinking the oath was a commitment by physicians to preserving life and health and not playing God.
In its earliest version translated from 3rd-century B.C. Greek, one portion of the oath says, “I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but never with a view to injury and wrong-doing. Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course. Similarly I will not give to a woman a pessary to cause abortion. But I will keep pure and holy both my life and my art.”
While some medical schools still have their students take the oath upon graduation, others don't or use something different. Christina Francis, MD, a practicing OB/GYN in Fort Wayne, addressed the tradition of the Hippocratic Oath in a speech she gave to the Indiana Right to Life Legacy of Life Banquet in Kokomo last month.
“One of the most surreal moments of my academic career ... was my White Coat Ceremony that marked the beginning of my medical training,” she said. “The most impactful part of the ceremony was when we recited together the Hippocratic Oath, which is considered to be the original codification of the ethics of practicing the art of medicine. For the first time in history, it set forth an ethical standard that transcended societal law and specified a professional dedication to the sanctity of life and to the trust-based relationship between doctors and their patients ... What I didn't know was that the oath I was reciting was not the original version. It was, instead, a watered down and more politically correct version that had virtually erased the responsibility of the physician to protect all human life. Not only that, but this newer version even included a reference to physician-assisted death and the care we must take when making that decision. This new version of the Hippocratic Oath not only reflects utilitarian trends in our society, it also harkens us back to the state of medicine prior to Hippocrates that led to Hippocratic physicians separating themselves from their contemporaries.”
A modern version of the oath includes these words: “Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.”
Dr. Francis says there is pressure on physicians to abandon their moral principles on the sanctity of life. She recommends, among other things, that those concerned should take a copy of the original Hippocratic Oath to their physician and ask them if they are committed to practicing according to it.
“If they aren't,” she said, “encourage them to take it home and think about it. If they are, thank them for their commitment to ... upholding the sanctity of life.”
Kerry Hubartt is editor of The News-Sentinel.