The Hippocratic Oath
Lapius answered the door with his sleeves rolled, and apron across his ample middle, tie loosened, and beads of sweat on his forehead. “Come in, Harry.” He turned sharply after closing the door and almost trotted back to his study. The place appeared to have reaped the whirlwind. Books and papers were scattered all over the place.
“Spring cleaning?” I asked.
“Bah, it’s the middle of the winter. Don’t be facetious. No, I’m looking for something.” He reached up to the last large volume on the shelf and leafed through its index, then set it onto his desk. “You won’t believe this, Harry, but I can’t find it anywhere. Yet I know it exists.”
“The Hippocratic Oath. You see, I’m writing something and want to excerpt some of its phrases, but it’s nowhere to be found.”
“Did you try the encyclopedia?”
“First off. Then Garrison’s History of Medicine, which includes details of Hippocrates’ aphorisms. Then Major’s book, plus every book on medicine on my shelves hoping to come across it in an introduction. It seems incredible, Harry, that the document, which at least when I was a medical student, was recited by every class graduating from medical school, should be almost unavailable. Maybe that’s the trouble.”
“The profession seems to be losing it s cohesiveness. Maybe it’s because the oath has been lost. Did you have to recite it on graduation?”
“No, it was not considered relevant.”
“That banal expression again. Please refrain from using it in my presence.”
“If the oath means so much to you, how come you don’t know it by heart?”
“But I do!” He started reciting. He stood up, like a youngster reciting an anthem.
“’I swear by Apollo, the Physician, and Aesculapius and Health and All-Heal and all the Gods and Goddesses that, according to my ability and judgment, I will keep this Oath and Stipulation:
“To reckon him who taught me this art equally dear to me as my parents, to share my substance with him and relieve his necessities if required: to regard his offspring as on the same footing with my own brothers, and to teach them this are, if they should wish to learn it, without fee or stipulation---‘”
He stopped for a moment. “We’ve fallen short here, Harry. Too many of our youth have been excluded from medical school because they couldn’t afford the tuition.” Then he continued reciting the oath.
“---and that by precept lecture and every other mode of instruction, I will impart a knowledge of the art to my own sons and to all those of my teachers, and to disciples bound by a stipulation and oath, according to the law of medicine, but to none others.
“I will follow that method of treatment which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous. I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel. Furthermore, I will not give to a woman an instrument to produce abortion.
“With purity and with holiness I will pass my life and practice my art. I will not cut a person who is suffering with a stone, but will leave this to be done by practitioners of this work. Into whatever houses I enter, I will go into them for the benefit of the sick and will abstain from every voluntary act of mischief and corruption, and further, from the seduction of females or males, bond or free.
“Whatever in connection with my professional practice, or not in connection with it, I may see or hear of the lives of men which ought not to be spoken abroad, I will not divulge, as reckoning that all such should be kept secret.
“While I continue to keep this oath unviolated, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and the practice of the art, respected by all men at all times. But should I trespass and violate this oath, may the reverse by my lot.’”
“You see Harry, it touches on all aspects of medical practice. What do you think of it?”
“It suffers in the translation.”
“Don’t be frivolous,” he said crossly.
“I think I may have a copy for you. But what do you need it for? You know it by heart.”
“Indeed I do. But I want to check the punctuation. Where the deuce did you get a copy?”
“It arrived in the mail.”
“In your medical school alumni bulletin, no doubt.”
“No. Some pharmaceutical company sent it to me for Christmas.”
“It figures.” Said Lapius.