Friday, June 18, 2010

The Hippocratic Oath

Imagine you are Hippocrates. You are living in ancient Greece, a society where life is cheap. As in, slavery is common, rape is common, infanticide is common. Doctors don't know to wash their hands. People die all the time. So Hippocrates has this idea. And his idea is, first, let's stop killing people.

I'm a huge fan of Hippocrates. Cause the practice of medicine in ancient Greece, before Hippocrates, was super bad. Say you were one of those ancient Greek doctors. And a woman came up to you and said, "I'm pregnant. Can you help me out?" The doctor would say, "Sure." And he'd give you a poison called a pessary. And it would cause a miscarriage, and your baby would die, and often you would die, too.

So Hippocrates was noticing all the dead women with their dead babies, and he said, "Okay, that's bad. We got to stop doing that shit." And Hippocrates came up with an Oath for doctors to say. And his Oath is so cool, that we adopted it. Judeo-Christianity adopted it. Yeah yeah, we made Hippocrates an honorary member of our civilization. So today, our doctors still say the Hippocratic Oath, over two thousand years later.

Part of the Hippocratic Oath goes like this: "I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and in like manner I will not give to a woman a pessary to produce abortion." Deadly medicine was considered bad medical ethics by Hippocrates. On a theory that homicide is bad, dead baby is bad, and dead woman is bad. Intentionally causing people to die was seen by Hippocrates as bad medicine.

And Harry Blackmun, by God, feels the need to deconstruct the Hippocratic Oath. He is writing Roe v. Wade, and the Hippocratic Oath is giving him fits. He wants doctors to feel free to ignore the Hippocratic Oath. Blackmun is irritated at this "rigid" and hard Oath that is getting in the way of his abortion jurisprudence.

Harry quotes a Dr. Edelstein, who argues that the Oath is "not the expression of an absolute standard of medical conduct." Apparently the ancient Greeks were violating it all the time. Blackmun finds this "satisfactory" and "acceptable". Maybe we should just switch all our doctors over from Hippocrates to Edelstein? Make them take the Edelstein Oath.

Myself, I want my doctor to be a Hippocrates man. You know, one of those guys who feels obliged not to give me any deadly medicine. "Good medicine. Not bad medicine. No killing. Save my life." I kind of want my medical professional to feel bound by the Hippocratic Oath. I am less than impressed with Harry Blackmun and his hero, Dr. Edelstein, with their flexible medical ethics.

Blackmun writes, "the Oath originated in a group representing only a small segment of Greek opinion and that it certainly was not accepted by all ancient physicians." Harry, is it possible, just throwing this out there, that the ancient physicians sucked ass? That they practiced really bad, horrible medicine? I mean, I know Hippocrates was in a minority, and he was outvoted by all the baby-killing, retard-killing, women-killing, slave-buying, I'm-late-for-my-orgy Greek doctors, but who gives a fuck what those assholes had to say about women, unborn children, the practice of medicine, or our Constitutional law?

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