It is now a hypocritical oath : The Tribune India

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It is now a hypocritical oath

It is now a hypocritical oath

Dr PN Chhuttani - File photo

BN Goswamy

THE other day, when I went for some tests and medical advice to the famed Chhuttani Medical Centre in Sector 17, Chandigarh, I was reminded of the distinguished man after whom it is named: Dr PN Chhuttani. His memory came like a sudden gust of wind — a little like Faiz’s ‘Raat yun dil mein teri khoyi hui yaad aayi/ jaisey veeraane mein chupke sey bahaar aa jaaye’ — for the whole place is redolent of his inspiring presence. It is there that, in a real sense and years ago, I first heard — from him in person, fortunate as I and my family were to have been close to him — of the Hippocratic oath. We were talking about the falling standards of ethics in the profession and he asked me if I knew anything of the text of the oath, which of course I did not. Fuming inside as he was at the falling standards, he reproduced for me, with remarkable calm, whole sentences of the oath, all from memory, for it greatly mattered to him.

The oath — named after an iconic physician of ancient Greece — requires, I learnt, a new physician to swear upon a number of healing gods that he will uphold professional ethical standards. It also strongly binds the student to his teacher and the greater community of physicians with responsibilities similar to that of a family member. Every year, worldwide, as students pass out of medical colleges, they are gathered in a solemn ceremony to repeat aloud this oath. But every year, we know with sadness, not unmixed with anger, that they forget it as soon as they go out in the wide and bad open world. It is no longer the Hippocratic oath, one realises with bitterness; it has turned into a hypocritical oath.

What does the oath enjoin upon those who swear by it? Among other things, ‘to hold him who taught me this art (that is, my teacher) equally dear to me as my parents’; ‘in purity and according to divine law will I carry out my life and my art’; ‘into whatever homes I go, I will enter them for the benefit of the sick’; ‘whatever I see or hear in the lives of my patients, … I will keep secret’; ‘I will teach this art, to those that shall wish to learn it, without fee or contract’.

The oath speaks resoundingly — if one cares to read it — of ethical standards and purity of conduct. And why was I — a certified non-medical person — thinking of it? Simply, I think, because I was at Dr Chhuttani’s centre where reverberations of the oath can still be heard. Elsewhere, in the world of the general practitioners of medicine today, the oath could perhaps be found in the form of a crumpled piece of paper thrown out of the window by those who swore by it once.

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