Is the Hippocratic Oath Still Relevant?

November 22, 2016

Nearly all doctors recite the original Hippocratic Oath or an alternative version of it in medical school. Yet it remains controversial, prompting questions about whether it should be retired.

Defenders assert that it has as much relevance today as ever, because it remains a public declaration of the social contract between the profession of medicine, its individual members, and society as a whole. Critics wonder whether the oath is a "necessary protection or an elaborate hoax." This is because the notion that a physician has independent power to behave morally and ethically in the treatment of patients is complex, given the role of the health insurance industry, hospital employers, and the pharmaceutical industry, not to mention the still-pervasive fee-for-service environment.

The oath, written 2400 years ago in and for a simpler time, appears silent on these issues. Thus, the question becomes: is the Hippocratic Oath still relevant?

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