Ethical Guidance For Modern Physicians From Two Ancient Practice Ethics

The Hippocratic Oath, adapted from the original ancient Greek version (4th century B.C.) for use in modern medical schools

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.

I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.

I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.

I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death.

If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.

I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, or a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.

I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.


From Writings of Sun Si-Miao, revered Chinese physician of the 7th century A.D.

Whenever a Great Physician treats diseases, he has to be mentally calm and his disposition firm.  He should not give way to wishes and desires, but has to develop first of all a marked attitude of compassion.  He should commit himself firmly to…the effort to save every living creature.

If someone seeks help because of illness or on the grounds of another difficulty, [a Great Physician] should not pay attention to status, wealth, or age, neither should he question whether [the patient] is an enemy or friend, whether he is Chinese or a foreigner, or, finally, whether he is uneducated or educated.  [The physician] should meet everyone on equal ground.  He should always act [toward the patient] as if he were thinking of himself.  He should not desire anything and should ignore all consequences; he is not to ponder over his own fortune or misfortune, and should thus preserve life and have compassion for it.

He should look upon those who have come to grief as if he himself had been struck, and he should sympathize with them deep in his mind.  Neither dangerous mountain passes nor the time of day, neither weather conditions nor hunger, thirst, or fatigue, should keep him from helping whole-heartedly.

Whoever acts in this manner is a Great Physician for the living.  Whoever acts contrary to these demands is a great thief for those who still have their spirits.