4 the World blog

Empowering collaborative communities

Hippocratic Oath for Nonprofits

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Do No Harm

After hearing an NPR reference to Do No Harm by Mary Anderson (1999) and after a recommendation to read Robert Lupton’s Toxic Charity (2011), I began thinking about the hippocratic oath.  What does it actually say and how does it apply to the nonprofit world?  I was surprised that the words “do no harm” were not present, although the concept was there.  I was equally surprised by the wisdom from antiquity that applies to the charity and development community today.  Almost 100% of medical schools commit to some modern form of the hippocratic oath.  Could a covenant still held valuable by the medical profession be a covenant for nonprofit and international development organizations also?  I believe so, and this is what it would look like.

Hippocratic Oath: Version for Development Workers

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of development researchers, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

I will apply, for the benefit of the impoverished, all measures required, avoiding those twin traps of dependency and therapeutic nihilism.

I will remember that there is art to development as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the financial aid or the policy reform.

I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a nation’s recovery.

I will respect the privacy of the people I wish to help, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know.I will not exploit their condition for my own material or emotional gain.

Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.

I will remember that all reform hurts someone and that relief to one may affect another’s security and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the impoverished.

I will prevent poverty whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to remedy.

I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of assisting those who seek my help.

Hippocratic Oath: Modern Version for Medical Profession

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.

I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.

I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.

I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.

I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.

I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.

—Written in 1964 by Louis Lasagna, Academic Dean of the School of Medicine at Tufts University, and used in many medical schools today.

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Author: 4 the World

4 the World identifies and collaborates with communities across the globe to empower them to identify and solve the most pressing needs of their communities within the areas of health and education. By partnering with the communities in these areas, we provide critical support and capacity-building initiatives to ensure these communities are capable of continuing to grow and thrive in the future.

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