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Under Oath: Medical Ethics Seminar Explores the Relevance of the Hippocratic Oath in Today's Medicine

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Dr. Antonio Gotto (left) and Dr. Joseph Fins at the special medical ethics seminar on Feb. 3.
Dean Gotto moderates a mock ethics-committee meeting.
The act of a graduating medical student taking the Hippocratic Oath is considered a time-honored rite of passage. Hands are raised, antiquated phrases are read aloud and, at the conclusion of the oath, the student officially enters a lifetime vocation.

While some may see this as a quaint tradition, many of today's leading medical professionals have begun to see the oath as the cornerstone of a physician's career┬Śnot just in recognizing technical ability, but as an instrument to remind physicians of the ethical responsibility they have to their patients, to their colleagues and the world at large.

To uncover the truth behind the cobwebs, the Hippocratic Oath was the topic of a special seminar held on Saturday, Feb. 3, at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in midtown Manhattan. Led by Dr. Antonio Gotto, dean of Weill Cornell Medical College, and Dr. Joseph Fins, chief of the Division of Medical Ethics at Weill Cornell and one of the country's leading medical ethicists, the seminar entitled "Medical Ethics Today: Does the Hippocratic Oath Still Matter?" attracted an audience eager to hear how the oath relates to issues in modern medicine, such as the efficacy of clinical trials and the oath's relevance to making end-of-life decisions.

In his introductory remarks, Dean Gotto said that Dr. Fins was uniquely qualified to speak on this subject, having chaired a committee at Weill Cornell to revise the classical Hippocratic Oath to make it more applicable to today's young medical professionals. (The revised oath debuted at the 2005 Commencement ceremonies at Carnegie Hall.)

The seminar included a mock ethics-committee meeting where members of the audience served as members of a committee deciding end-of-life issues that involved physicians, their patients and their families. The day-long seminar also featured a lively discussion led by Dean Gotto about the ethical issues in clinical drug trials.

Photography by Amelia Panico.

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