The Hippocratic Oath - meaning and origin

The Hippocratic Oath - meaning and origin

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Hippocrates was the best known Greek doctor of antiquity. Z was born on the island of Kos, and his family derived their roots from Aesculapus, the god of medicine. The young Hippocrates learned the medical craft from his father Herakleidas.


The Greek Hippocrates is considered the founder of medicine as a science. He saw in (most) diseases no action of the gods, but taught the empirical method, which develops a system from observations of disease symptoms.

The Hippocratic Oath

Hippocrates' oath was long seen as an ethical obligation by the doctor, and until far into the modern age, doctors vowed not to violate an ethic committed to healing. However, this oath is probably not from the ancient Greek himself.

As with many great figures in history, Mohammed, Karl, the Great, or Robin Hood, posterity attributed to Hippocrates deeds and words that reflect worldviews and developments in a society.

The “oath of Hippocrates” presumably shows the guidelines of the Greek doctors and not the confession of a single man.

Content of the oath

He begins by saying, "I swear to Apollo, the doctor, Asklepios, Hygieia and Panakeia, and all the gods and goddesses, by witnessing them that, according to my strength and judgment, I will fulfill the following oath and contract . "

This "swearing by the gods" was comparable to the Christian "swearing by God", so it went far beyond a mere obligation.

He continues: “The one who taught me this art, to respect my parents, share my livelihood with him, and share in the things he needs, if he needs them, his offspring my male siblings to equate immediately, to teach them this art, if they wish to learn it, without giving any remuneration or contract, to share in instruction, lectures and in all the rest of the teaching my sons and the sons of the one who taught me the contractually bound and by oath-bound students by medical practice, but nobody else. "

Students no longer take this oath today. That is a good thing. Because, according to the wording, they would have to give part of their salary to their professors throughout their lives, whose children educate them free of charge as doctors and should not pass on medical knowledge publicly.

The next sentence corresponds to a doctor who is committed to the well-being of the patient: “I will use dietary measures for the benefit of the sick according to my strength and judgment; I will protect them from harm and injustice. "

However, the following paragraph is not suitable for a modern understanding of medicine: “Nor will I give anyone a lethal remedy at their request, nor will I give any advice of this kind; in the same way I will not give a woman a fruit-suppository suppository. I will keep my life and my art pure and holy. "

Active euthanasia is still not permitted in Germany today, but humanistic associations are demanding that this aid be allowed to commit suicide. Hippocrates, however, does not even allow a doctor to advise a person how to leave life on his own.

Opponents of Christian abortion would enjoy the vow not to provide any means that abort the fruit. This lack of assistance in abortion has nothing to do with the right of women to self-determination in modern thinking. The sentence is so general that it should also include abortion after rape.

Delimitation of your own area of ​​competence

Furthermore, the doctor commits to his area of ​​competence: "I will not use cutting, not even for those suffering from stones, I will rather leave this to the men who carry out this activity."

Today, this would mean that a doctor is not allowed to operate. In Hippocrates' time it was self-protection. Doctors in Greece were far from having the reputation they enjoy today, and even simple operations were risky. Even today, not a single operation on the human body is risk-free.

If the wound became infected or the symptoms worsened, the doctor risked being banished from the city. This work for the “men for the rough” to leave to the stone cutters was probably used to pull the head out of the loop.

Then again the oath formulates a behavior that should be a matter of course for a doctor even today: “I will enter all the houses that I enter for the benefit of the sick, free of any deliberate wrong, of any other pernicious act and of sexual acts female and male persons, both free and slaves. "

The requirement not to sexually abuse patients is still fundamental for medical practice today - for doctors dealing with the physically defenseless, as well as for therapists who find it easy to sexually exploit psychologically addicts.

Medical confidentiality

At the end is the sentence that is also legally binding for doctors in Germany, namely the medical confidentiality: "Whatever I see or hear during treatment or regardless of the treatment in people's lives, I will, as far as it never follows may be spread outside, but remain silent, convinced that such things are unspeakable. "

However, in Hippocrates' time this duty of confidentiality is not detached from the obligation towards the teacher and his children. It is less about the privacy of the patient and more about the doctor's secret knowledge, which he only passes on to his students so that it remains reserved for the selected group.

The oath closes with the words: “If I now fulfill this oath and do not violate it, it may come to me that I enjoy my life and my art, respectful of all people forever, but if I transgress it and become envious , may the opposite occur. "

The Geneva Vow

Today, the oath of Hippocrates is no longer decisive for doctors in Germany, but the Geneva Declaration. It was adopted at the World Medical Association in 1948 and is considered a direct consequence of the Third Reich.

The Nazis' doctors had broken all human rights millions of times: They had brought people with disabilities to murder, they had "exterminated" people in Eastern Europe to exterminate them, and they carried out inhumane experiments on prisoners in concentration camps.

Much like the UN convention to prevent genocide was a consequence of the Nazis' genocide millions of times over, the Geneva Declaration was the cornerstone of medical ethics after doctors destroyed all ethics.

Wording of the declaration

1) I solemnly undertake to dedicate my life to the service of humanity.

2) I want to show my teachers the respect and gratitude to which they are entitled.

3) I want to practice my profession with conscientiousness and dignity.

4) The health of my patient should be my primary consideration.

5) I want to respect the secrets entrusted to me, even after his death.

6) I want to uphold the honor and the noble tradition of the medical profession with all means in my power.

7) My colleagues should be my brothers.

8) I don't want religion, nationality, race, party politics, or social considerations to interfere with my duties and my health.

9) I want to maintain human life with awe from conception.

10) I do not want to use my medical ability against the laws of humanity even under threat.

The Geneva vow quotes the Hippocratic oath in several respects, namely confidentiality, patient welfare and the inviolability of human life.

However, the “awe” from the point of conception is so vague that it does not in principle prohibit abortion and, above all, allows contraception.

The obligation to humanity, even under threat, and the absolute priority of the relationship between doctor and patient over religion, origin or party can be understood as a direct border to fascist medicine. They mean that the doctor must remain true to his humanity even under the worst political conditions. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)

Author and source information

Video: What Hippocrates Knew and We Have Forgotten (August 2022).