The Gersten Institute


Creating an Oath in Keeping with the ideals of Hippocrates

For reasons I cannot explain, I felt a powerful urge to assist in the creation of a legitimate, spiritually-based oath for doctors to take. I had read a variety of oaths, including a Modern Oath, which was written by committee. It read like a committee wrote it, and then a team of lawyers poured over it to make sure all the legal issues were carefully taken care of and sanitized. This oath had the heart ripped out of it. It was as moving as the escrow papers one reviews and signs before buying a house. This heartless oath is being used more and more worldwide.

I wondered if an oath could be written by a group of the most respected, top doctors in the world. But then who would decide who the top doctors are? Even if one were somehow to identify a group of incredible men and women, like the ones who wrote the American Constitution, how would I personally be able to contact them? I had no way of beginning to implement this idea. So, I took on the rather audacious task of re-writing the Hippocratic Oath myself. People will ask, “Who do you think you are to re-write the Hippocratic Oath? Where does your authority come from?” I had to ignore that inner voice of fear and reply to myself, “Who are you ‘not to’ attempt this? Do your best, put it out in the world, and then surrender. What happens with it will be in God’s hands.

And so I began a process in which I kept eighty percent of the original Hippocratic Oath, changed some words (like “Apollo” and “Aesclepius”), integrated relevant and important wording from the recent Modern Oath, and then added words of my own. I wanted to make sure that the words, “Never do harm,” were clearly stated. Interestingly, neither the original Oath of Hippocrates nor any of the modern oaths dealt with death at all. What I added includes two sections that deal with death. This is obviously an important issue for doctors to know about and to commit to before taking on the white coats of “doctor.” Beyond the importance of addressing issues of death and dying, let me conclude by telling you why the subject of death in the new oath has special meaning. I completed the Hippocratic Oath for the 3rd Millennium early in the morning of September 11, 2001. It was done. I was happy with it and hoped it would assist the healing of medicine. I was tired and fell asleep on the couch with the TV on. I was lulled out of my sleep at 5:45 a.m. Pacific Standard Time. The first plane had flown into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York. I immediately woke up and watched the unfolding tragedy. Later that day I thought, “How appropriate that I would complete this oath, the first oath to deal directly with death, just a few hours before thousands of innocent people would die.”

Hippocratic Oath for the Third Millennium

“I swear by God, as I conceive Him or Her to be, and as God the Supreme Physician that, according to my ability and judgment, I will keep this Oath as a sacred trust. I will honor and respect him who taught me this Art and count him equally dear to me as my parents. I will impart a knowledge of the Art to all those who deeply desire to serve his fellow man, to alleviate suffering, to cure, to heal, and to help make whole through the practice of Medicine. This is my solemn oath.
I will follow that system of treatment which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider to be for the greatest benefit of my patients, and will abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous.

I recognize the unique, special value of all human life and I also know that the prolongation of human life is not the only aim of the physician. I shall help the dying with extra care for their body, mind, and spirit and will not allow my treatments to interfere with the spiritual, social, and psychological needs we must all face as death’s gates ultimately await each of us.

Where abortion is permitted by law, I agree that it should take place only within an ethical framework, with the highest standards of my profession and of my own conscience brought to bear. I will work to bring unity and harmony to my fellow physicians and will strive to find solutions amidst controversy. In times of emergency and crisis, I will do my best to help and heal according to my capacities. I will not provide treatments which are harmful or which an informed and competent patient refuses. I shall keep this Oath to never do harm.

While I shall deeply respect the needs of those individuals who personally seek my help, I will also do my part to uphold human rights of all mankind and to oppose policies which breach internationally accepted standards of these inalienable rights. I will seek unity in diversity, seeing the same humanity in all, regardless of race, religion, gender, or nationality. I will treat both rich and poor with equal dedication, equal effort and equal respect. I will never forget the aching heart and soul within the ailing physical body I am called upon to heal.

With purity and with holiness I will pass my life and practice my Art and Science. I will work solely for the benefit of the sick, and will abstain from every voluntary act of mischief and corruption. I will refrain from the sexual seduction of all patients. I will not forget that he or she who has been my patient will forever remember me in my capacity as healer.

I will hold the words of my patients in strictest confidence, realizing that healing arises out of trust between physician and patient, and that to betray words shared in confidence is to betray my patient. If there are overriding reasons that prevent me from keeping a patient's confidentiality, I will explain the reason in the clearest terms.

I will keep this Oath from this moment until my last breath and shall be grateful, honored, and humble at the sacred gift and responsibility now placed in my hands by my elders. May I grow wiser and kinder every day. May my mind strive to grasp the infinite complexity of health and illness and may my heart grow larger, year-by-year, to understand and share the pain, suffering, and joy of those who have entrusted their health to me.

Let me accept the miracles of healing without requiring immediate understanding of the mechanism. Let me recognize my own ignorance, vowing to shed light where darkness exists, and let me not be intimidated by the uncertainties and mysteries of Medicine.

I vow to treat each patient with reverence. May I search for the deeper meanings of life, illness, and death. As a physician, along with my desire to cure, I will honor truth, integrity, peace, love, and non-violence and will regard these as a necessary foundation, both for healing and as a reminder to do no harm.

With these words, I commit at the deepest level of my heart and soul, to serve my fellow man in the sacred capacity as physician.”