Emiratus Professor Max Kamien:  Introductory Remarks At Dr Alida Lancee’s Launch for the Freedom of Choice WA Campaign,

5 Feb 2017

Hippocratic oath  Written in the 4th Century BC, 100 years after the death of Hippocrates. "I will give no deadly drug to any, though it would be asked of me, nor will I counsel such.I will not aid a woman to procure abortion." It then goes on to swear by ancient Greek Gods Apollo, Asclepius, Hygieia and Panaceia that have few if any followers’ and are antithetical to the beliefs of Christians, Jews, Moslems and non-believers. It says “I will look upon him who shall have taught me this as one of my own parents. I will share my substance with him, and I will supply his necessities, if he be in need. 

Having taught a few thousand medical students I have no complaint about this part of the oath other than that this injunction has yet to have happened to me.: "I will not use the knife, not even for sufferers from stone."

Clearly the history and spirit of the Hippocratic Oath is important but the world of medicine has changed in the last 2500 years.

Modern Version of the Hippocratic Oath

This has been influenced by the Declaration of Geneva written by the World Medical Association in 1948 in response to the medical crimes committed by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. It has been revised several times up to 2013. It forms the basis of most medical school graduation and specialty college oaths.

•    I will not permit considerations of age, disease or disability, creed, ethnic origin, gender, nationality, political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, social standing or any other factor to intervene between my duty and my patient;

•    I will maintain the utmost respect for human life;

•    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.

 A 1993 survey of the graduating oaths of 150 US andCanadian medical schools and 12 Australian medical schools showed that only 14% of those oaths prohibited euthanasia and 8% foreswear abortion. 

All these modern oaths state: I will seek to enhance the quality of my patients’ lives and maintain their dignity.

" I will never abuse their trust or confidence."

I have treated people with terminal cancers who in palliative care scream out in agony. I have also treated patients who have horrible neurological diseases that rob them of any enjoyment of life and dignity. One made a living will and said:

“I am lucky to have had you as my doctor over the last 30 years. When the time comes I know you will know what to do”.  

The oath that I read and that is repeated by new Fellows of the RACGP states:

"I will seek to enhance the quality of my patients’ lives and maintain their dignity. I will never abuse their trust or confidence."

But to fulfill this oath I have to break the law of this land. I have not done that because I do not have access to the appropriate barbiturates and knowing something of jail life I do not fancy spending my eighth decade in one. 

From my point of view as a dedicated doctor I have failed such patients, miserably. They had expected and deserved, better. 

Dr Rodney Syme and Dr Alida Lancee are made of sterner stuff. I support their passion and their cause. So do 85% of Western Australians. Sadly, a majority of Western Australian parliamentarians lack the democratic guts to vote according to their constituents’ wishes. That is why Alida is making a political statement. I wish her and her cause well. And I say Bravo Alida.