Howard Markel, PhD, MD, Director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, wrote in his May 13, 2004 article, "'I Swear by Apollo' - On Taking the Hippocratic Oath" that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine:
Although many scholars dispute the exact authorship of the writings ascribed to the ancient physician Hippocrates, who probably lived sometime between 460 and 380 B.C., the oath named for him is simultaneously one of the most revered, protean, and misunderstood documents in the history of medicine…
[N]early every U.S. medical school will administer some type of professional oath to its share of about 16,000 men and women who are eager to take possession of their medical degrees. Yet it is doubtful that Hippocrates would recognize most of the pledges that are anachronistically ascribed to him…
There are two highly controversial vows in the original Hippocratic Oath that we continue to ponder and struggle with as a profession: the pledges never to participate in euthanasia and abortion.
[Editor's Note: There are two primary versions of the Hipprocratic Oath. The ancient Greek version dates back to aproximately 400 BCE, and the modern version was written in 1964. Both versions are presented below for comparison.]
The National Institutes of Health offer a 1595 Greek and Latin version of the ancient Hippocratic Oath on their website (accessed Aug. 5, 2008):
Hippocratic Oath 1595 (accessed online Aug. 5, 2008)
I swear by Apollo the physician, and Asclepius, and Hygieia and Panacea and all the gods and goddesses as my witnesses, that, according to my ability and judgement, I will keep this Oath and this contract:
...I will use those dietary regimens which will benefit my patients according to my greatest ability and judgement, and I will do no harm or injustice to them.
I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion.
In purity and according to divine law will I carry out my life and my art.
I will not use the knife, even upon those suffering from stones, but I will leave this to those who are trained in this craft.
Into whatever homes I go, I will enter them for the benefit of the sick, avoiding any voluntary act of impropriety or corruption, including the seduction of women or men, whether they are free men or slaves.
Whatever I see or hear in the lives of my patients, whether in connection with my professional practice or not, which ought not to be spoken of outside, I will keep secret, as considering all such things to be private.
So long as I maintain this Oath faithfully and without corruption, may it be granted to me to partake of life fully and the practice of my art, gaining the respect of all men for all time. However, should I transgress this Oath and violate it, may the opposite be my fate."
Louis Lasagna, MD, Academic Dean of the School of Medicine at Tufts University, wrote the modern version of the Hippocratic Oath in a June 28, 1964 article for the New York Times Magazine titled "Would Hippocrates Rewrite His Oath?," which stated:
"I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:
I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.
I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.
I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug.
I will not be ashamed to say "I know not," nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient's recovery.
I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.
I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person's family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.
I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.
I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.
If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help."