(Fifth Century B.C.)
Hippocrates (c. 460-377 B.C.) Born on the Aegean island of Cos , was the most celebrated physician of antiquity. It is not certain that he wrote the oath that bears his name, but it was probably written during his lifetime. The earliest surviving references to the oath date from the first century A.D. These suggested that the oath was seen as an ideal rather than a norm, and it was not until the fourth century that a doctor was obliged to take the oath before practicing.
I swear by Apollo Physician and Asclepias and Hygieia and Panaceia and all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will fulfill according to my ability and judgment this oath and this covenant.
To hold him who has taught me this art as equal to my parents and to live my life in partnership with him, and if he is need of money to give him a share of mine, and to regard his offspring as equal to my brother in male lineage and to teach them this art-if they desire to learn it- without fee and covenant; to give a share of precepts and oral instruction and all the other learning to my sons and to the sons of him who has instructed me and to pupils who have signed the covenant and have taken an oath according to the medical law, but to no one else.
I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them harm and injustice.
I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly, I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art.
I will not use the knife, not even on sufferers from stone, but will withdraw in favor of such men as are engaged in this work.
Whatever houses I may visit, I will come for the benefit of the sick, remaining free of all intentional justice, of all mischief, and in particular of sexual relations with both female and male persons, be they free or slaves.
What I may see or hear in the course of the treatment or even outside the treatment in regard to the life of men, which on no account one must spread abroad. I will keep to myself holding such things shameful to be spoken about.
If I fulfill this oath and do not violate it, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and art, being honored with fame among all men for all time to come; if I transgress it and swear falsely, may the opposite of all this be my lot.
(Ancient Medicine: Selected Papers of Ludwig Edelstein, edited by Oswei Temkin and C. Temkin, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1967.)
Prayer of Moses Maimonides
Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) was court physician to the sultan Saladin, the famous Muslim military leader. The prayer attributed to Maimonides is second only to the Hippocratic Oath in its influence on medical ethics.
Almighty God, Thou hast created the human body with infinite wisdom...Thou hast blest Thine earth, Thy rivers and Thy mountains with healing substances; they enable Thy creatures to alleviate their sufferings and to heal their illnesses. Thou hast endowed man with the wisdom to relieve the sufferings of his brother, to recognize his disorders, to extract the healing substances, to discover their powers and to prepare and to apply them to suit every ill. In Thine Eternal Providence, Thou hast chosen me to watch over the life and health of Thy creatures. I am now about to apply myself to the duties of my profession. Support me, Almighty God, in these great labours that they may benefit mankind, for without Thy help not even the least thing will succeed.
Inspire me with love for my Art and for Thy creatures. Do not allow thirst for profit, ambition for renown and admiration, to interfere with my profession, for these are the enemies of truth and of love for mankind and they can lead astray in the great task of attending to the welfare of thy creatures. Preserve the strength of my body and of my soul that they ever be ready cheerfully to help and support rich and poor, good and bad, enemy as well as friend. In the sufferer let me see only the human being. Illumine my mind that it may recognize what presents itself and that it may comprehend what is absent or hidden...
Should those who are wiser than I wish to improve and instruct me, let my soul gratefully follow their guidance...
Imbue my soul with gentleness and calmness...
Let me be contented in everything except the great science of my profession. Never allow the thought to arise in me that I have attained to sufficient knowledge, but vouchsafe to me the strength, the leisure, and the ambition ever to extend my knowledge. For Art is great, but the mind of man is ever expanding.
Almighty God! Thou has chosen me in Thy mercy to watch over the life and death of Thy creatures. I now apply myself to my profession. Support me in this great task so that it may benefit mankind, for without Thy help not even the least thing will succeed.
(Abraham Joshua Herschel, Maimonides, translated by Joachim Neugroschel, London, Faber, 1982.)