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Hippocratic Oath for Pharmacists

6 December 2014

Was I alone in feeling uncomfortable with the proposal by the International Pharmaceutical Federation that pharmacists should take an oath?

I know that some schools of pharmacy have a ceremony, and some doctors may swear a version of the Hippocratic Oath, though presumably not referring, as Hippocrates did, to Apollo, Asclepius, Hygeia and Panaceia.

Oath taking is still important in some parts of public life, such as the law courts. Oaths are not confined to jurors and witnesses.

When full time judges are appointed, they swear to do right, and to treat everyone who appears in their courts equally. It is a very old tradition, and ending it might send the wrong message.

If pharmacists were to take an oath, there is no reason why doctors should have a monopoly on the one devised by Hippocrates. Pharmacists could adopt a version of what Hippocrates swore:

  • not to give a deadly drug to anyone who asks for it
  • not to encourage anyone to take a deadly drug
  • to pass on his learning
  • not to undertake treatment for which others had more expertise
  • to refrain from sexual relations with patients
  • to keep the sick from harm, and
  • to keep what the sick told him confidential.

I can see that the FIP oath has been modelled on the Hippocratic one; though Hippocrates’ promise not to give a woman an abortive remedy has been quietly omitted, presumably because it would clash with the provision of EHC.

The FIP notion is too late, superfluous, and possibly counter-productive. Hippocrates lived 2,500 years ago.

Perhaps there would have been a place for an oath even up to the point when the pharmacy profession ceased to be self-regulating in 2010, because an oath signifies the voluntary acceptance of certain responsibilities and obligations.

However, in these post-Shipman, post-Mid Staffs days, healthcare professionals can no longer choose to accept their responsibilities and obligations: by law, certain requirements automatically apply to everyone who is registered. Good professional conduct is mandatory, and fitness to practise is policed.

There is nothing in the FIP oath that is not in the Standards and guidance published by the GPhC.

It is naive to think that some healthcare practitioners would treat an oath more seriously than legal and impression that compliance is voluntary or that non-compliance might lead to punishment in the hereafter, rather than the here and now.

This article was written by David Reissner.

For more information please contact David on +44 (0)20 7203 5065 or david.reissner@crsblaw.com