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Towards the End of the Hippocratic Oath?

December 18, 2017

At its General Assembly in Chicago, IL, in October of 2017, the World Medical Association adopted a revised version of the Hippocratic Oath--a version that no longer protects unborn lives.


The first change worth mentioning is that the new version transforms the “oath” into a “pledge”. In an increasingly secularized world, the word “oath”, according to the global medical organization, is too explicit a reference to a “divinity” that “makes laws”.

But the most meaningful change is an implicit opening to abortion: the former wording, “I will maintain the utmost respect for human life from the time of its conception”, is replaced by “I will maintain the utmost respect for human life.” Abortion is no longer absolutely forbidden. This passage also affects the question of the end of life.

The notion of the patient’s autonomy has also been introduced with a clause: “I will respect the autonomy and dignity of my patient.” This notion is ambiguous: it can mean the quality of the medical treatment, but also the doctor’s obligation to respond to all of the patient’s requests. Does it no longer matter what those are?