Introduction

The origins of modern ethics, at least as it relates to the fields of medicine—and from that, science—can be traced back to the teachings and practices found in a small colony of physicians on the Greek island colony of Kos. As he lived and worked near the temple of Apollo, located on the island, a physician by the name of Hippocrates began to collect various writings of various philosophers and physicians, leading to the first popular, heavily circulated and agreed-upon document concerning ethics as it relates to the field of medicine, treatment, research, and other fields involving experimentation on other humans.

Although Hippocrates may not have been the author to pen each of the works that make up his collection of ethical guidelines in science and medicinal treatment, he and his Hippocratic Oath have stuck around even until the present. Throughout history, however, some in the field of applied study and research—as well as other fields dealing with the treatment or collection of data from other humans—have voiced their opinions about the importance of ethics in their areas of study and in the scientific community as a whole.

As times have changed, people's perceptions of things once considered to be set in stone in the past have constantly been challenged by bright new thinkers who introduce new, innovative ideas. Others are simply modified and molded to fit new theories, advancements, or sensibilities of a certain time period. It's part of the pursuit of science to want to attribute every phenomenon seen in the known world to some law or formula, but certain fields—specifically those centered around the study of people, and even more specifically their thoughts or reasoning—are much harder to quantify than more 'basic' areas of study, such as physics.

There are many aspects of the larger field of ethics that people debate over, but for the purpose of brevity, the focus will be put upon the Hippocratic Oath, and how much scientific—and perhaps more importantly, medical—professionals view it with regard to prominence, but also on how relevant it is in the modern world with current advancements in technology and treatment. With advancements in scientific and medical technology as it relates to gathering data, performing operations, treating symptoms, and other activities ethically, maybe the teachings of Hippocrates are less important than they were during the centuries before now.

Research Methods

In order to determine the consensus surrounding the use of the Hippocratic Oath by those in scientific fields, we must first know what guidelines the document has put in place for people to follow, and also which of those are still practiced today. Only then will we be able o reasonably deduce—without misinterpretation—the various sentiments held by these researchers regarding current ethical recommendations, and through that, come to the conclusion on a more general agreement of which, if any, of the rules listed in Hippocrates documents aren't relevant anymore in today's debate of ethics.

To accurately gain insight on the thoughts of these people, the method used to gather information is to scan through various academic articles previously published in which the author or group of authors voice their opinions or findings on how the Hippocratic Oath and other ethical guidelines put in place by Hippocrates should be used.

Afterwards, their opinions shall be listed in later sections, and from that data, it will be possible to derive at least some sort of orientation regarding the public's conviction in Hippocrates' ethical guidelines. For a document so entrenched in the teachings and practices of the western world, there have been many evolutions and reimaginings of the words once written down by the original physician, but even just seeing how these new versions of the Hippocratic Oath differ from the first can provide insight on how the physicians, doctors, and scientists of today view that guideline.

Results of the Research

According to an article by Peter Tyson, written for and submitted to NOVA, a PBS subsidiary, The Hippocratic Oath has seen a dramatic rise in popularity over the years. The oath has grown from just "24 percent of U.S. medical schools administering the oath in 1928 to nearly 100 percent today." The article continues, however, by stating that core tenets once held in the highest regard in the original text compiled by Hippocrates are no longer present in more modern versions of the oath. Some examples of guidelines left on the cutting room floor include the prohibition of euthanasia, and the forbiddance of sexual relationships with patients. Calls for free teaching of medicine and treatment to the newer generation are also not often followed, and the wish for doctors and surgeons to remain divorced is hardly considered in modern medical facilities.

Tyson continues his article by levying various positions those in different fields of medicine take regarding the prevalence of the oath in modern medical discussions. Some cite "huge scientific, economic, political, and social changes" as proof enough that the oath is outdated, while others feel that in a growing "environment of increasing medical specialization," sharing one oath across each field is a questionable decision.

Many physicians claim that the Hippocratic Oath, though now practically known throughout the western world, fails to address differing beliefs among the multitude of religions around the world, claiming that the pagan beliefs deeply rooted in the document often clash with the beliefs held by people of other religions, specifically citing Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam among those that differ wildly from the religion held by Greeks at the time.

Another article, by Serbian author Artur Bjelica, states in regards to the oath, "opinions about its relevance range from warm approval to total disapproval." According to Bjelica, there are nearly "half a million hits" found when searching for the words Hippocratic Oath on Google. With a centuries-old document such as the oath, there are bound to be hundreds of articles written by scholars and thinkers all picking apart and analyzing a work of literature so ingrained into our study of ethics and medicine. To add to the sheer mass of academic work directed at one set of guides, the author also points out the growing number of posts made on social media platforms.

Bjelica goes on to state that the Hippocratic Oath has already been modified to fit the cultures of various countries and groups around the world, being modified, appended, and rewritten to fit the knowledge gained since the writing of the original document, but also to fit the beliefs, practices, and sensibilities of any given culture.

He quotes the opinions of some physicians regarding the oath, and found that many still see it as historically important, with one stating that for the first time in the history of medical literature, "there was a complete separation between killing and curing." Others have gone on to argue that any physician is free to choose their own oath or set of guidelines to follow them throughout their time of practicing medicine that more closely aligns to the beliefs they hold.

In an effort to modernize the Hippocratic Oath, Bjelica notes that changes have already been made to the document, including the removal of calling upon various gods and goddesses of Greek lore are witness to your pledge, as well as shortening the section regarding the respect one should have for seniors in the field and how a physician should teach their knowledge to former pupils. He acknowledges that this change is most likely due to the fact that—according to Hippocrates' oath—a physician should be readily available to teach their former instructor's heirs in a physician's ways, and in the time period in which this work was written, the male offspring would more often than not inherit this position. Bjelica argues that these sections of the oath have been trimmed due to them no longer being "acceptable nor compliant with reality."

A final article written by Fabrice Jotterand weighs in with its own opinions regarding the relevance of the Hippocratic Oath. In her paper published by Taylor & Francis, she argues that "the resources for a better understanding of medical professionalism lie not in the Hippocratic Oath, tradition, or ethos in and of themselves." Rather, she believes that the path to better make clear these resources "must be found in a philosophy of medicine that explores the values internal to medicine, thus providing a medical-moral philosophy so as to be able to resist the deformation of medical professionalism."

It can be considered that the changes in public opinion regarding the Hippocratic Oath can be derived from advancements in technology and scientific achievement, but perhaps more importantly, the development and growing specificity of ethics as a discipline. No longer do academics believe one code of ethics is sufficient in dealing with the complexities of every field of work or study, and instead nuanced guidelines should be followed depending on the context of the situation a person finds themselves in.

Discussion Over Opinions Regarding the Oath

From reading these accounts of personal opinion gathered from many medical and ethical experts, it seems that many studying the application of ethics in the fields of science and medicine are torn on whether or not the oath penned by Hippocrates of Kos centuries prior still holds up to today's rugged and varied ethical landscape. No longer is the world centered around Greece and the nations surrounding the Mediterranean Sea like Hippocrates thought. Instead, people of all races located in all nations must practice medicine ethically, and while there are some constants among the guidelines set for these physicians to follow worldwide, much of what one considers ethical is learned from watching and absorbing the culture one is surrounded by and raised in. To this effect, rather than modifying and appending to a centuries-old document written on a small nation in Europe, it's possible to see the point of those that argue against having a singular oath across all medical professionals throughout the world.

On the other hand, however, it's clear to see the importance of such a document being penned so early in the field of medicine. If not for this one paper penned by one man in a tiny physicians' colony on a tiny island off the coast of Greece, the prestige and respect of medical professionals may never have reached the heights they've reached today. Before Hippocrates penned his Oath along with other medical documents, the western world associated healing with the will of the unknown—be that a spirit, god, or energy—rather than through the effort and ingenuity of people. It was also one of the first documents that separated the actions of healing from the action of taking life.

One cannot understate the sheer consequence this work of literature imbued on the field of medicine, ascending it from repulsive acts such as manslaughter and instead placing it on a pedestal and rewarding physicians with accolades and rewards for risking their life and honor to save others, regardless of race, creed, sex, or sociopolitical status.

In conclusion, the Hippocratic Oath has been both praised and criticized for thousands of years since it was first written by its author, and the millions of articles, discussions, posts, and opinions about the piece that have yet to come to a consensus seem to indicate that there may be ever more millions of works written about this landmark document in medical and ethical history.

Only time will tell whether this oath can still weather through the ages as a list of the most important rules a physician should follow, or if it's obsolete due to developments in science, technology, and ethics regarding the treatment of patients.

Resources to Dig Deeper