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Ep. 29 Why Hippocrates still matters

Thomas Cavanaugh, PhD

For most doctors, Hippocrates is a quaint figure of the past with hardly any relevance to the modern practice of medicine.  We may label him as the “father of medicine,” but we have no idea what really connects us to him.  We may occasionally and sanctimoniously proclaim “first, do no harm!”  but we ignore the origin and real significance of that phrase.

Some of us may have taken some modified version of the Oath of Hippocrates upon graduating from medical school, but few of us think of it as a serious pledge with any real consequence for our day-to-day practice.   And, over the last decades, most bioethicists have openly set aside the Hippocratic tradition, deeming it inadequate to help us deal with the moral quandaries that arise in the age of scientific medicine.

So, is there are any reason, besides historical curiosity, to become familiar with Hippocrates, let alone take him seriously?  To help us sort this out we have a distinguished guest who is the author of a brand-new book entitled Hippocrates’ Oath and Asclepius’ Wound: The Birth of the Medical Profession, published by Oxford University Press.  


Professor Thomas Cavanaugh’s faculty Website


Thomas A. Cavanaugh. Hippocrates’ Oath and Asclepius’ Wound. (Oxford University Press)

Thomas A. Cavanaugh.  Double Effect Reasoning: Doing Good and Avoiding Evil. (Oxford University Press)

Michel Accad.  Physician-assisted dying: A deadly choice for the medical profession. (Alert & Oriented blog)

Michel Accad.  On the deactivation of implantable devices. (Alert & Oriented blog)


Watch the episode on our YouTube channel


  1. Anthony M. Perry, M.D. on 09/26/2018 at 3:36 PM

    I just got around to listening to the last part of this episode last night and I’m glad I did. The first part which I heard a few days ago was a little too much involved in technical philosophical arguments but as it got more and more into serious medical ethics discussion it got better and better. In the end I felt the same satisfaction that you seemed to have. Thank you and your guest for that.

    As far as physician assisted suicide is concerned it sounded like Anish was buying into it a bit on the grounds of compassion and patient autonomy. In my experience of several decades of primary care I supervised the somewhat prolonged terminal treatment of many patients, including my both parents and my sister. Most of these required a great deal of devoted attention but I can’t right now recall any in which I did not come away feeling satisfied with the outcome. A recourse to suicide never came up as a consideration.

    In this debate I am most persuaded by the slippery slope argument. Once doctors cross the line where does it end. I guess that is why there is a line to begin with. I don’t know what the actual experience is in the places where the practice is condoned. A show on this subject specifically would be of great interest.

    • Michel Accad on 09/26/2018 at 4:22 PM

      Good idea! Will look into a guest who can speak on that.

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