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Inspiring Words And Modern Hippocratic Oath For Doctors-To-Be

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(Gouwenaar, Wikimedia Commons)

Tufts Medical School held its annual “White Coat” ceremony this weekend to induct some 200 new students into the profession — and yes, to give them the white coats that will mark them ever after as medical staff.

The event included a poetic speech, excerpted below, by Dr. Beth Lown, medical director of The Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare, and the students recited the “Modern Hippocratic Oath.”

“The what?” I asked, ever the last to know. “There’s a new oath?”

Turns out controversy has long swirled around the 2500-year-old oath, as Nova describes in a fascinating 2001 look here. Nova includes the full and quite pagan original text, beginning “I swear by Apollo Physician and Asclepius and Hygieia and Panaceia and all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will fulfill according to my ability and judgment this oath and this covenant.”

It is a mix of eternal and utterly outdated pledges, and my eyes widened when I read that it includes a sentence relevant to the physician-assisted suicide measure on this November’s Massachusetts ballot: “I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.”

The modern version has this instead:

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.

The modern oath, which is now extremely widespread, was written in 1964 by the late Dr. Louis Lasagna, Academic Dean of the School of Medicine at Tufts, and it exudes far more compassion, nuance and indeed humility than old Hippocrates. It includes: Continue reading