PROLIFE DOCTORS REVISE HIPPOCRATIC OATH
BACKGROUND: The times, some distinguished doctors feel, require a
rewrite of the Hippocratic Oath.
"ANYBODY and everybody has been writing oaths as substitutes for the
Hippocratic Oath," said Dr. Joseph Stanton of the Value of Life
Committee, Brighton, Mass.
Most of them, he said, "bear no resemblance to the original oath."
[One even says that ending life is sometimes "an act of supreme
love."] But Stanton and his associates in prolife causes have come up
with a restatement of the Hippocratic Oath that has anti- euthanasia
and anti-abortion provisions, as well as clauses covering "informed
consent" and medical research (see text at end of article).
Endorsers of the new oath include Dr. Anne Bannon of National Doctors
for Life; Rabbi J. David Bleich, Cardozo Law School; Dr. C. Everett
Koop, former surgeon general; Dr. Edmund Pellgrino, Georgetown
University; Msgr. William Smith, St. Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie,
N.Y.; and Dr. John Willke of Life Issues Institute.
The ancient oath, named for the Greek physician Hippocrates (460-377
B.C.), has provisions against both euthanasia and abortion, as well
as the famous phrases: "With purity and with holiness I will pass my
life and practice my art.... Into whatever houses I enter, I will go
into them for the benefit of the sick. ... "
Traditionally, graduating medical students have taken the oath,
swearing "by Apollo . .
. and all the gods and goddesses," although some Christians have sworn by Christ
instead. Those who take the new oath will simply swear: "in the
presence of the Almighty."
Some critics have objected to the ancient oath's assumption that all
doctors are men. The restated oath, drafted at a time when nearly
half of all medical students are women, omits the male references.
Also deleted is the old oath's promise not to "cut persons laboring
under the stone."
Not everyone Stanton consulted is happy about the restatement. Dr.
Herbert Ratner, a prolife veteran and editor of the Child and Family
journal, told the Register that he opposed the restatement "because
the original was so great and powerful." He wants to see medical
students take the ancient oath, but he said that medical schools
"have been dropping what they don't like" particularly the sections
against abortion and euthanasia.
Ratner described the ancient version as "an inspired oath," marking a
recognition by Greek pagans that "they ought to separate healing from
killing." He added, "Listen: You don't rewrite the Gettysburg
Address. You don't rewrite the Sermon on the Mount" or the Ten
Commandments. The Hippocratic oath, he said, "belongs in that
Boston psychiatrist Dr. Joanne Angelo, however, liked the restated
oath so much that she sent her own copy of it to Pope John Paul II.
Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston recently carried it to Rome, she told
the Register, and promised that "he would see that the Holy Father
Like others who worked on it, Angelo hopes that graduating medical
students will start taking the revised oath. She suggested that the
restatement is "a little more appealing to young people today."
Stanton, 74, has thought about the Hippocratic Oath as a prolife
activist and a doctor- but also as a patient. He had a severe case Of
polio as a teen-ager and he's now a wheelchair user.
In a recent interview, he was philosophical about the revised oath.
"If God means for it to fly, it's gonna fly," he said. "I have great,
great confidence in that."
'With purity, holiness and
THE VALUE OF LIFE; Committee, Brighton Mass., has copyrighted the
restated oath "to insure textual integrity." It is reprinted here
"I SWEAR in the presence of the Almighty and before my family, my
teachers and my peers that according to my ability and judgment I
will keep this Oath and Stipulation:
TO RECKON all who have taught me this art equally dear to me as my
parents and in the same spirit and dedication to impart a knowledge
of the art of medicine to others. I will continue with diligence to
keep abreast of advances in medicine. I will treat without exception
all who seek my ministrations, so long as the treatment of others is
not compromised thereby, and I will seek the counsel of particularly
skilled physicians where indicated for the benefit of my patient.
I WILL FOLLOW that method of treatment which according to my ability
and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patient and abstain
from whatever is harmful or mischievous. I will neither prescribe nor
administer a lethal dose of medicine to any patient even if asked nor
counsel any such thing nor perform act or omission with direct intent
deliberately to end a human life. I will maintain the utmost respect
for every human life from fertilization to natural death and reject
abortion that deliberately takes a unique human life.
WITH PURITY, HOLINESS AND BENEFICENCE I will pass my life and
practice my art. Except for the prudent correction of an imminent
danger, I will neither treat any patient nor carry out any research
on any human being without the valid informed consent of the subject
or the appropriate legal protector thereof understanding that
research must have as its purpose the furtherance of the health of
that individual. Into whatever patient setting I enter, I will go for
the benefit of the sick and will abstain from every voluntary act of
mischief or corruption and, further, from the seduction of any
WHATEVER IN CONNECTION with my professional practice or not in
connection with it I may see or hear in the lives of my patients
which ought not be spoken abroad I will not divulge, 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 and science of medicine
with the blessing of the Almighty and respected by my peers and
society, but should I trespass and violate this oath, may the reverse
be my lot."
Cooperators, Endorsers and Signatories: Dr. E. Joanne Angelo; Dr.
Henry Armitage; Dr. Anne Bannon; Rabbi J. David Bleich; Professor
Harold O.J. Brown; Dr. Matthew Bulfin; Dr. Paul Byrne; Dr. William
Colliton; Professor John Jefferson Davis; Professor Patrick Derr; Dr.
Eugene Diamond; Dr. Mark Druffner; Professor Arthur Dyck; Dr. Richard
Fenigsen; Dr. Albert Gunn; Dr. Curt Harris; Dr. Gloria Heffernan; Dr.
Helen Jackson; Professor C. Ward Kischer; Dr. C. Everett Koop; Dr.
Micheline Mathews-Roth; Professor William May (Washington, D.C.); Dr.
Ralph Miech, Dr. Gertrude Murphy; Professor J. Robert Nelson; Dr.
Samuel Nigro; Dr. Robert Nixon; Dr. Edmund Pellegrino; Dr. Francis
Rockett; Msgr. William Smith; Dr. Joseph Stanton; Dr. Leonie S.
Watson; Dr. Richard A. Watson; Dr. John C. Willke; Professor George
Taken from the "National Catholic Register," July 16, 1995. For
subscriptions contact the "National Catholic Register", P.O. Box
260380, Encino, CA 91426-0380, (800) 421-3230.