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New doctors have delivered the Hippocratic Oath since ancient times, and many of its concepts and pledges are as relevant today as they were centuries ago. The oath was named for the Greek philosopher Hippocrates, who is called the father of modern medicine. Many believe he also wrote it, but others believe that it was the work of his contemporary, Pythagoras. Although the Hippocratic Oath has been revised throughout the years, it still retains its original intent.
The Original Oath
The original version of the oath spoke of Greek gods and goddesses, especially Apollo, who was the God of Health. A physician promised to respect the gods, but also to respect science. While many believe the oath contains the words "First, do no harm," that quote comes from another work of Hippocrates. The actual original oath says, "I will abstain from harming or wronging any man by it."
Despite the fact that Hippocrates wrote the oath around 400 BC, its use was not common practice until the 20th century. As medicine has become more relevant, the oath has followed. As late as the 18th and 19th centuries, just a handful of doctors in the U.S. took the Hippocratic Oath. Today, practically all graduating medical students repeat some form of it.
As medicine has changed, so has the Hippocratic Oath. Older versions stated that the physician will not cut, but with surgery being so prevalent, that statement has been eliminated from some versions. And while some doctors still take an older oath, promising never to give medicine that would harm an unborn child, most doctors today don't swear not to perform abortions. Today's oath still includes promises to give sound health advice and maintain doctor/patient confidentiality.
A Moral Guide for Doctors
Doctors are not legally bound by this oath -- it's violating medical board laws that can cost them their license -- but they take pride in it. The oath binds many doctors to use their ethical conscience and do what is morally right. This moral conscience is the essence of the original oath.
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