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The Hypocritic Oath

By  +Follow August 23, 2013 8:47AM
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 (Wikipedia): The Hippocratic Oath is an oath historically taken by physicians and other healthcare professionals swearing to practice medicine honestly. It is widely believed to have been written either by Hippocrates, often regarded as the father of western medicine, or by one of his students. The oath is written in Ionic Greek (late 5th century BC), and is usually included in the Hippocratic Corpus. Classical scholar Ludwig Edelstein proposed that the oath was written by Pythagoreans, a theory that has been questioned due to the lack of evidence for a school of Pythagorean medicine. Of historic and traditional value, the oath is considered a rite of passage for practitioners of medicine in many countries, although nowadays the modernized version of the text varies among them.

The Hippocratic Oath (orkos) is one of the most widely known Greek medical texts. It requires a new physician to swear upon a number of healing gods that he will uphold a set of professional ethical standards.

There is absolutely no legal obligation whatsoever for any medical graduate to swear an oath to any healing god; and yet some 98% of American students make such a pledge upon graduation. In Britain, the number is only 50%, but I am presuming that's because dentists are exempted.

The situation in Europe is slightly different. In 1948, the Declaration of Geneva was adopted by the General Assembly of the World Medical Association in, you've guessed it, Geneva in order to standardize the Hippocratic Oath. As is the way of large, global organizations, the General Assembly amended the oath in 1968 ... and 1983 ... and 1994, before it was "editorially revised" in 2005 ... and again in 2006. That's Europe for you, folks.

In accordance with the International Code of Medical Ethics, the Declaration of Geneva was intended to create a formulation of the Hippocratic Oath that would allow "the oath's moral truths [to] be comprehended and acknowledged in a modern way".

Which is nice.

The current version of the Declaration of Geneva (subject, obviously, to further amendment, since I am writing this on Saturday and it probably won't reach you before Tuesday) reads as follows:

At the time of being admitted as a member of the medical profession:

•I solemnly pledge to consecrate my life to the service of humanity;


•I will give to my teachers the respect and gratitude that is their due;


•I will practice my profession with conscience and dignity;


•The health of my patient will be my first consideration;


•I will respect the secrets that are confided in me, even after the patient has died;


•I will maintain by all the means in my power, the honour and the noble traditions of the medical profession;


•My colleagues will be my sisters and brothers;


•I will not permit considerations of age, disease or disability, creed, ethnic origin, gender, nationality, political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, social standing or any other factor to intervene between my duty and my patient;


•I will maintain the utmost respect for human life;


•I will not use my medical knowledge to violate human rights and civil liberties, even under threat;


•I make these promises solemnly, freely and upon my honour.

Personally, if I were about to start practicing medicine, I think I would prefer to take the original Oath, which supposedly started out like this (though it has been argued that these exact words do not appear in the text as written by Hippocrates):

First, do no harm.

Simple, pithy, easy to remember. That's how you start an oath, Pope Pius X. "I profess that God, the origin and end of all things, can be known with certainty by the natural light of reason from the created world" (the Oath Against Modernism, 1910) just doesn't have the same kind of zip.

And I don't know what you radical Republicans over there in the corner are snickering about. "I do solemnly swear that I have never voluntarily borne arms against the United States since I have been a citizen thereof" is hardly going to sell a whole bunch of T-shirts at rallies, now, is it? No. It's not.

I must say, though, that the Omerta is a little more like it. Legend has it that it originated when a wounded man said to his assailant, "If I live, I'll kill you. If I die, I forgive you". Now THAT is a bumper sticker I could get behind — but unfortunately I promised not to talk about it.

Unfortunately for Hippocrates and all his successors in the medical arena, however, the Greek word for "jealous", "play-acting", "acting out", "cowardly", or "dissembling" is hypokrisis; and this is the etymological root of the word hypocrisy, which is defined as:

The state of falsely claiming to possess characteristics, such as religiosity or virtues, that one lacks. Hypocrisy involves the deception of others and is thus a kind of lie.

Over the last several years, a new oath has appeared in the world of finance as global investment banks have been hauled in front of Senate committees, Congressional panels, various regulatory bodies, and (what always used to be the harshest of judges) the public: the Hypocritic Oath.

It begins thus:

First, admit no wrong.

To continue reading this article from Things That Make You Go Hmmm… – a free weekly newsletter by Grant Williams, a highly respected financial expert and current portfolio and strategy advisor at Vulpes Investment Management in Singapore – please click here.

By  +Follow August 23, 2013 8:47AM
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