The Hippocratic oath that physicians take declares that physicians will dedicate themselves to helping the sick and to doing them no harm, and that they will do their best to act on the behalf of patients. Although this oath is taken only by physicians, there has been a tradition among health professionals in all areas to act in specific ways that will help patients. The Hippocratic tradition still influences biomedical ethics because it implies that health professionals “ought” to make choices that benefit patients.
Furthermore, it promotes the underlying values and beliefs that it is good to be helpful and to take care of others. The principle of beneficence is directly related to the Hippocratic tradition because it refers to the duty to help others achieve their interests and to protect others from harm. It has been challenged in recent years because it is sometimes interpreted to mean that physicians or other health professionals have a duty to make choices for patients rather than with patients.
In addition, the principle of beneficence can conflict with other principles, especially in situations where health professionals’ actions are directly opposite to the wishes of patients and family members. The following case study illustrates the conflict that can occur between beneficence and other ethical principles such as autonomy. Although beneficence is being challenged more often, it is still an important ethical principle that guides the behavior and practice of health professionals.
Example of Hippocratic Oath
I swear by Apollo the Physician and Asclepius and Hygeia and Panacea and by all the gods and goddesses, making them judges, that this my oath will be fulfilled as far as I have power and discernment. To the one who taught me this art, I will esteem him the same as my parents; He will participate in my command and if he wishes, he will participate in my assets. I will consider their offspring as my brothers, teaching them this art without charging them anything, if they wish to learn it. I will instruct by precept, by discourse and in all other forms, my children, the children of the one who taught me and the disciples united by oath and stipulation, according to medical law, and not to other people.
I will carry forward this regime, which according to my power and discernment will be for the benefit of the sick and will separate them from harm and terror. No one will give a deadly drug even when it is requested, nor will I give advice for this purpose. In the same way, I will not give any female suppositories destroyers; I will keep my life and my art away from guilt.
I will not operate on anyone by calculations, leaving the way to those who work in that practice. To any house that enters, I will go for the benefit of the sick, abstaining from all voluntary error and corruption, and lasciviousness with women or free men or slaves.
I will keep silent about all that in my profession, or outside it, hear or see in the life of men that should not be public, keeping these things so that you can not talk about them.
Now, if I fulfill this oath and I do not break it, that the fruits of life and art are mine, that it is always honored by all men and that the opposite happens to me if I break it and I am perjurer.