Friday, June 18, 2010

Hippocrates: Nice Oath, Bad Doctor

Here's the thing that just blows my mind. By modern standards, Hippocrates was not actually a good doctor. How could he be a good doctor, when he didn't know to wash his hands? I mean, it's not like Hippocrates is out there, actually saving lives. If you think about it, you can imagine ol' Hippocrates out in the ancient Greek world, fucking up over and over again. "Leach him. Put some leaches on."

Or whatever, you know? We don't remember Hippocrates for the leaches or the hacksaws or whatever else was good medical advice at the time.

Why do we remember Hippocrates? Because of his mindset. Because this is the mindset we want our doctors to have. And what is Justice Blackmun objecting to? His mindset. Yeah yeah, the only thing Hippocrates has going for him, the only reason we like the guy, is his mindset. And this is what Blackmun is complaining about.

Here's how Blackmun describes Hippocrates: "the Father of Medicine, the wisest and greatest practitioner of his art, and the most important and most complete medical personality of antiquity, who dominated the medical schools of his time, and who typified the sum of the medical knowledge of the past." I mean, if you're Hippocrates, that's a pretty good intro, right? You can't really complain. Blackmun is kissing your ass big time.

But here is what Blackmun says about your Oath, Hippocrates: "strict...a matter of dogma...uncompromising...apparent rigidity..." So while Blackmun personally likes you a helluva lot, Hippocrates, he finds your Oath to be kinda mean and inflexible. The work of a severe, stern, right-wing bastard. Almost like a born-again Christian or one of those upright Victorians. I mean, loosen up, Hippocrates. Seriously.

Personally, I would have flipped this on its head. I would have said, "well, those ancient Greeks knew shit-all about medicine. Could you please wash your hands, Hippocrates? Clean up a little. Ancient Greece was definitely not a good time to be sick, or going to the doctor. But, we have this wonderful Oath that we got from Hippocrates. This amazing Oath that we still quote today. Because this is the right mindset for a doctor to have."

I mean, I want my doctor saying to himself, over and over, "First, do no harm. Don't kill anybody. No deadly medicine." I'd like my doctor to be repeating this stuff to himself as he drives to work. I'd like him to be quizzing the pharmaceutical rep. "Hey. Is this deadly medicine? Cause I cannot give my patients any deadly medicine at all. I got this Oath that I am bound to follow."

Blackmun apparently wants his doctor whispering in his ear, "You want to die? I can help. Totally cool." Hey, I like that hippie Kevorkian as much as the next guy. I just don't want him to be operating on me. I prefer my doctors uptight and sweating the details, worried about fucking up and violating their Oath.

Come to think of it, that's how I like my Supreme Court Justices, too. I'm pretty sure they have their own Oath they are supposed to follow. I don't actually want them engaging in wordplay, deconstructing their Oath, finding ways around it, passing secret memos to each other about how arbitrary their shit is. I like my Supreme Court Justices saying, over and over, "Got to follow the Constitution. Got to follow the Constitution. Are we following the Constitution? Where is that in the Constitution?" I'd like them carrying their Constitution around with them, opening it up, and reading it again. And again.

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