Primum non Nocere

There are unfortunate resulting gray areas from the lack of a required oath for medical professionals.  Did you know that the Hippocratic Oath is an archaic concept that your Dr is not required to take vow to?  Military, police, firefighters, politicians, Presidents, royal leaders, priests, new citizens, judges, spouses, all have an oath or set of vows to speak.  It’s expected.  It’s just not expected of the people we are entrusting our very lives to for medical needs. 

Primum non nocere” (do no harm) is also unfortunately subject to a little problem that may be what many of us run into.  The need of the chronically or catastrophically ill person is often to have someone try something, anything, rather than let us suffer or die needlessly when the nothing obviously is doing… nothing for us.  With that concept comes the interpretation that “given an existing problem, it may be better not to do something, or even to do nothing, than to risk causing more harm than good“.  This is, I am convinced, often the reason we are the victims of inaction.  My feeling however is that since that concept came from the Hippocratic Oath as it’s base… they need to adhere to it more completely, rather than picking and choosing what they WANT to from it.  It needs to be standardized.

 I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone.”  That statement kind of leads you to the idea that if doing nothing is causing harm, you can’t do nothing either.  Unfortunately because it is also very cut and dry about abortion, no one wants to take the original form of he oath today, as there are medically necessary situations for that.  Many also objected to the reference to Greek gods, of course, and so a modified/modern version was written out to accomodate those social changes.

In that version we find this:  “I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.”  Hmm.. Sounds to me like doing nothing is viewed there to be as bad as doing too much.  This version includes some critical issues that we deal with regularly.  In my opinion, an oath should be required.  They are taught the principle of “do no harm” in medical ethics, and that is the fundamental principle for worldwide emergency services, but that’s as far as it goes.  I could care less if a polician takes an oath.  They won’t adhere to it anyway.  The guy writing my prescriptions however… THAT I care about.

If you’ve never read it, you should.  It might give you more confidence in dealing with an uncooperative care provider and give you something to think about regarding the care you deserve to receive.  Maybe you can share (haha) some of your new insight with your Dr as well.


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 to 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.


About Tala

-Livestream Broadcaster - Active in Periscope & Busker -YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, & Facebook Pages Advocacy for better quality of life with catastrophic illness & injury. Conditions I live with myself are my awareness platform: rheumatic autoimmune & neurological, women's heart disease Traditional First Nations (Native American) -Training: Tai Ch'i Chuan, medical terminology, cultural Medicine -Avid about hiking, camping, & outdoor adventure Special Interests: Natural health, everything from East Indian to East Carolina cuisine, 16th Century German fencing Favorite Travel Spots: Yosemite, Catalina Island, E. North Carolina, Northern CA redwoods/coastal rainforest ~I live as naturally as I can, stay on a whole foods diet (as in what I eat, not as in "a diet"), avoid as many synthetic meds as I can, and do not consume artificial sweeteners and most preservatives. If you're curious about why, see my posts.~ Periscope/Twitter ID: Tala_NoExcuses

Posted on July 13, 2011, in I Am That Wolf and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Donna Niforos

    In the modern day medical world there are many procedures and drugs that make the oath “do no harm” difficult at best. Chemotherapy alone, does alot of harm to the human body. It may, if things go well, it may prolong life, yet it also causes numerous side effects, among them…death. Surgical procedures are done with no intention of harm, yet harm does occur. Holding a physician to “do no harm” in essence, ties his hands, for so many procedures are capable of creating harm. So, in light of that, and remembering the numerous lawsuits that occur despite the physician’s intention to do no harm, I believe it is impossible for an ethical person to say the oath, including the words do no harm. The premise is wonderful and it would be incredible if that could be done, yet in reality, it is not a possibility, in my opinion.

  2. Of course. Do no harm isn’t in the version I posted though. That’s part of why I prefer the modern oath as it is written – “avoiding those twin traps”. To avoid means that you make the effort, and in the rest of the oath it states that you have to be willing to admit when you don’t know what to do and involve others who may help. “To the best of my ability and judgement” means a vow to that same effort without condemning the treating physician for a failure. It’s not written to say they are perfect and can’t make mistakes, but it does hold them to some level of ethical action and conscience. That is how any good oath is written and enacted. It’s what is lacking in medical practices today. It needs to be utilized.

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