I got an envelope from the school today. I was so thrilled I could hardly sit still to eat dinner. Here I’ve been kind of dreading one part of the graduation ceremony (well, actually I’m not too excited about going through unknown rituals on a stage in front of a crowd of strangers, but that’s kind of unavoidable): the oath. Our school had us say a really sentimental, meaningless, “diverse”, accepting, “commitment” at the beginning of school. It had almost no reference to the really important parts of the Hippocratic Oath, and it was just plain sappy. I was not looking forward to having to repeat it again, or some variation thereon, for graduation.

I had dreamed of persuading my class to up and demand to say the original Oath, but that was never practical.

And here, come to find out, we actually do get to pick the oath we say. The envelope, along with information about how much extra money we need to pay to actually receive our diploma, and have graduation gowns, enclosed some papers with eight different possible oaths that we can choose from. And to judge by precedent, we could probably write or compile a new one, too, if we wanted to.

There’s the Oath of Maimonides, which refers to God, but otherwise is a collection of nice sentiments with no value as an actual oath. (To be meaningful, an oath ought to refer to certain specific actions which ought to be done, and certain other actions which ought not to be done; promising to love everyone and play fair is not helpful.) There are various modern humanistic renditions, which have a few words in common with Hippocrates, but nothing else.

And then there’s a “Declaration of Geneva,” which I’m not sure where it came from, but it seems to be the Hippocratic Oath in clean, sharp modern phraseology (“I will give to my teachers the respect and gratitude which is their due. . . I will respect the secrets which are confided in me. . . My colleagues will be my brothers and sisters. . . “) – and with this all-important line retained: “I will maintain the utmost respect for human life, from the time of conception; even under threat, I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity. I make these promises solemnly, freely, and upon my honor.”

I would say at least 10% of my classmates are going to be a priori violently opposed to that wording. I think it’s as close to perfect as I have a chance of getting. But at the same time, I don’t want to ruin the ceremony for the others. So, I am going to launch a full-throttle private campaign, to see how many votes I can amass before the actual day of choosing. But if it’s going to make more than one or two others very upset, I won’t push it. After all, I’m going to hold myself bound by the precepts of the original oath (loyalty to other members of the profession, service to all social classes, keeping patients’ secrets, refusal to provide abortifacients or assist in euthanasia) regardless of what I end up saying with the class. After all, I’d hate to force anybody to swear to some real solid ethical standards against their will. . .

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