23 October 2013

the doc talked ... now he sleep with da fishes

● The other day I watched the American movie First Do No Harm, a dramatised account of a true story about an epileptic boy, and his mother’s (Meryl Streep) battle to get him on the ketogenic diet, in the face of fierce opposition from doctors who prefer to apply an escalating drug regime which clearly isn’t helping.
At the start of the film, we hear a modern form of the Hippocratic Oath, recited by graduating doctors, which I hadn’t come across before. It begins:
I do solemnly swear that I will be loyal to the profession of medicine, and just and generous to its members.
I suppose one could argue this is an attempt to update the original 5th century BC version, which talks about kindness and respect for the individual who passed his skills on to you. But “loyal to the profession” and “generous to its members” sound like new duties altogether. (The WMA’s updated version refers to “giving teachers the respect and gratitude that is their due”.)
I don’t have time to research whether this new wording is taken from the current standard version for American physicians, but it seems to be in use at Penn and Virginia, while Columbia applies it but without the reference to “generous”. I am not aware whether British doctors now swear something similar, though I am fairly certain they didn’t in 1995 when The Power of Life or Death first came out.
Regardless of how widespread the new oath is, it seems to me indicative of attitudes within the profession. Loyalty to colleagues, and consideration for the image of the profession, are clearly now regarded as a very important part of ‘ethics’.
The disclosure today that parts of the British medical profession have
a kind of omertà, where if you do anything against the status quo of the organisation you are finished
is therefore shocking but not entirely unpredictable.