Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

THE British Medical Association is abandoning the famous oath of the great ancient Greek doctor Hippocrates, sworn in the name of Asclepius, in favour of a modern, up-to-date version. This is probably wise. Few doctors today believe in Asclepius. But the BMA's decision does not alter the importance of Hippocrates' oath in putting democratic accountability at the heart of doctor-patient relationships.

Since there was no such thing as authorised medical training, let alone degree certificates, in the ancient world, anyone could claim to be a doctor. Before the oath was ever invented, however, the idea of the perfect doctor was already taking shape. We hear of a Greek doctor being honoured for serving Call alike fairly, whether rich or poor, slave or free or foreigner' and that he `maintained a blameless reputation in all respects'. Of one Xenotimos, we read that at a time of epidemic, `of his own free will he constantly helped those who needed it; intent upon bringing recovery to all the sick indiscriminately, and toiling for all citizens equally, he saved many'. …

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