The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Wednesday, March 26, 2003  

Vengeance is Mine, Sayeth Zeus

I learned something today.

I learned that the words "first do no harm" are not included in the Hippocratic Oath and apparently never were, though at a web site called Time and the River I found this:

It is the opinion of many scholars that Hippocrates did, in fact, originate the phrase, but in another of his writings, Epidemics, Bk. I, Sect. XI. One translation reads: "Declare the past, diagnose the present, foretell the future; practice these acts. As to diseases, make a habit of two things -- to help, or at least to do no harm."

The same site provides a translation of the original Hippocratic Oath along with two modern versions. The first of the modern versions reads, in part:

I swear in the presence of the Almighty and before my family, my teachers[,] and my peers that according to my ability and judgment I will keep this Oath and Stipulation.

To reckon all who have taught me this art equally dear to me as my parents and in the same spirit and dedication to impart a knowledge of the art of medicine to others. I will continue with diligence to keep abreast of advances in medicine. I will treat without exception all who seek my ministrations, so long as the treatment of others is not compromised thereby, and I will seek the counsel of particularly skilled physicians where indicated for the benefit of my patient.

I will follow that method of treatment which according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patient and abstain from whatever is harmful or mischievous. I will neither prescribe nor administer a lethal dose of medicine to any patient even if asked nor counsel any such thing nor perform the utmost respect for every human life from fertilization to natural death and reject abortion that deliberately takes a unique human life.

With purity, holiness and beneficence I will pass my life and practice my art. Except for the prudent correction of an imminent danger, I will neither treat any patient nor carry out any research on any human being without the valid informed consent of the subject or the appropriate legal protector thereof, understanding that research must have as its purpose the furtherance of the health of that individual. Into whatever patient setting I enter, I will go for the benefit of the sick and will abstain from every voluntary act of mischief or corruption and further from the seduction of any patient….

While I continue to keep this Oath unviolated may it be granted to me to enjoy life and the practice of the art and science of medicine with the blessing of the Almighty and respected by my peers and society, but should I trespass and violate this Oath, may the reverse [be] my lot.

A second modern version of the oath, approved for use by the American Medical Association, reads as follows:

You do solemnly swear, each by whatever he or she holds most sacred: That you will be loyal to the Profession of Medicine and just and generous to its members. That you will lead your lives and practice your art in uprightness and honor.

That into whatsoever house you shall enter, it shall be for the good of the sick to the utmost of your power, your holding yourselves far aloof from wrong, from corruption, from the tempting of others to vice.

That you will exercise your art solely for the cure of your patients, and will give no drug, perform no operation, for a criminal purpose, even if solicited, far less suggest it.

That whatsoever you shall see or hear of the lives of men or women which is not fitting to be spoken, you will keep inviolably secret.

These things do you swear. Let each bow the head in sign of acquiescence. And now, if you will be true to this, your oath, may prosperity and good repute be ever yours; the opposite, if you shall prove yourselves forsworn.

The same site informs me, "It should be noted that not all physicians take the Hippocratic Oath when they enter practice. Depending on where they earn their medical degrees, they may take an oath or pledge other than one of the several forms of the Hippocratic Oath."

Now, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) reminds each and all of us at every available opportunity that he is a physician. Sen. Frist is a graduate of the Harvard Medical School. I do not know, and at this late hour I cannot confirm, which version of the Hippocratic Oath Sen. Frist took upon entering medical practice.

It is clear, however, that Sen. Frist, at least as a U.S. senator, has violated several provisions of the Oath, that by, uh, virtue of his craven loyalty to the pharmaceutical, medical, and hospital industries -- the latter from which he and his family continue to profit greatly -- and particularly to Eli Lilly & Co., one of the Republican party's most reliable contributors, as well as his shamelessly cavalier disregard for the health of America's children.

Hyperbole? Overstatement? Exaggeration?

I don't think so.

I'll leave the final vengeance in the hands of Zeus or our own almighty God, but in the meantime I suspect the wrath of Wampum's Mary Beth Williams may prove sufficient, at least as a starting point.

And so, for further details about Sen. Frist's aiding and abetting of the cruel, selfish, and greedy agenda of Eli Lilly, the manufacturer of the adulterant Thimerosal, an untested derivative of mercury that many scientists believe may have caused autism in thousands of American children who received any or all of several vaccines adulterated by this compound, see, among much else at Wampum, "Cut to the Chase" and "A Plea for Action."

A final note to my fellow bloggers: The blogosphere made a difference, a real difference, exposing the not-so-latent racism of Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) when he not so long ago was wishin' he and the darkies was back in the land of cotton.

It's time to join together again, for this is an issue the traditional print and broadcast media largely have ignored and are continuing to ignore. Too complicated, I guess. The parents are too "emotional," they're probably saying, echoing the party line out of Lilly and the Republican National Committee.

Please, bloggers, take some time to read the heartbreaking and, unfortunately, sickening posts about autism, Thimerosal, Lilly, and Sen. Frist, White House Budget Director Mitch Daniels, Rep. Dick Armey (R-Texas), and Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) at Wampum and P.L.A. - A Journal of Politics, Law & Autism.

This is an issue, a cause, and a goal that deserves to be made our own. Get with the program, people. And I mean that in the nicest, and yet most dejected, way.

[Post-publication addendum (March 26): I see that Tapped, the blog of the American Prospect magazine, wrote briefly about this issue yesterday, quite rightly directing readers to Wampum. Please alert me to other bloggers writing about the Thimerosal scandal -- also known as "Lillygate" -- so that I may post links here.]

[Post-publication addendum (March 27): Mother Jones today wrote about Lilly, Thimerosal, and the spineless sycophants that comprise the Republican Party's leadership in Congress (see "Under Cover of War"), giving a well deserved nod (and link) to Wampum.]

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