Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

Swearing to care: the resurgence in medical oaths

BMJ 1997; 315 doi: (Published 20 December 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;315:1671
  1. Brian Hurwitz (, senior lecturera,
  2. Ruth Richardson, historianb
  1. a Department of Primary Care, Imperial College School of Medicine, St Mary's Campus, London W2 1PG
  2. b Wellcome Research Fellow in the History of Medicine, Department of Anatomy, University College London, London WC1E 6BT
  1. Correspondence to: Dr Hurwitz


We are witnessing a resurgence of professional interest in medical oaths and codes of conduct. In the United Kingdom the General Medical Council has reissued its professional code and, together with the BMA, the royal colleges, and other organisations, has published a document on the “core values” of medical practice.1 2 There has been discussion of the role of oath taking at the end of medical training, and the BMA has drafted a new Hippocratic Oath on behalf of the World Medical Association (see third box).3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 The American Medical Association has this year commemorated the 150th anniversary of its 1847 Code of Ethics with an extensive debate on the relevance of oaths and codes to modern practice.12 13 14

Declaration of Geneva

“At the time of being admitted as a Member of my Profession:

I solemnly pledge myself to consecrate my life to the service of humanity;

I will give to my teachers the respect and gratitude which is their due;

I will practice my profession with conscience and dignity;

The health of those in my care will be my first consideration;

I will respect the secrets that are confided in me, even after the patient has died;

I will maintain by all the means in my power, the honour and the noble traditions of my profession;

My colleagues will be my sisters and brothers;

I will not permit considerations of age, disease or disability, creed, ethnic origin, gender, nationality, political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, or social standing to intervene between my duty and my patient;

I will maintain the utmost respect for human life from its beginning, even under threat, and I will not use my specialist knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity;

I make these promises solemnly, freely, and …

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