Letter: Reservations about new doctors' oath

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Sir: Thank you for informing us that the British Medical Association has updated the Hippocratic Oath on our behalf (report, 28 March). As a member of the BMA and a practising clinician in a teaching hospital, I have had no prior warning of this and would appreciate the opportunity to make some comments.

While welcoming the excision of Apollo, Aesculapius and, "all the gods and goddesses", and agreeing to leave cutting people "labouring under the stone" to my esteemed urological colleagues, I nevertheless have some serious reservations about the proposed new oath.

First, there is the removal of the vow to abstain from the seduction of patients. Had that part become unnecessary? Sadly not, as cases over recent years have shown. Many patients put themselves in a vulnerable and potentially compromising position with members of our profession, trusting that doctors will not take advantage. We should not hesitate to assert that we will not.

Second, there is the agreement to carry out abortions "within an ethical and legal framework". The chairman of the BMA has stated his intention that this oath should come into use by every doctor from every medical school. Will they be obliged to sign? Will abortion under certain circumstances become a duty?

I welcome an update in the language of the Hippocratic Oath, but I deplore the change in its spirit. When our medical students graduate, I shall be advising them not to sign.

HUGH J THOMSON

Consultant Surgeon

Birmingham

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