The Hippocratic oath has been passed down from Greek antiquity and reminds us that medicine is not practised in an ethical vacuum.
Hippocrates was born on the small Greek island of Kos in the Aegean Sea (near the coast of Asia Minor) in 460 BC and died in Larissa, a town in mainland Greece, around 377 BC. Before his era, medicine was based on practical experience and drew its support from religious and superstitious beliefs rather than science. Hippocrates rejected the notion that illness was caused by divine powers and believed that treatment should be based on observation, reasoning and experience. Hippocratic medicine represents a landmark in the history of western medicine, being the precursor of evidence based medicine.
The Hippocratic oath
All the writings of Hippocrates and his pupils, including the Hippocratic oath and his famous Aphorisms, were compiled under the title Corpus Hippocraticum in the 3rd century BC. Most of the oath’s content is relevant today, such as its emphasis on privacy. Moreover, the meaning of the oath can provide a focus for reflection and discussion about contemporary ethical issues in modern times, some 2500 years years after the oath’s genesis.