Adapted from VES –The Voluntary Euthanasia Society of England and WalesFrom the Voluntary Euthanasia Society of England and Wales 

The Hippocratic Oath was established around 2,500 years ago in Greece. Some doctors use it as a guide to carrying out their work. Part of the Hippocratic Oath states: 

“I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.” 

A doctor who follows this oath also promises “not to give a woman a pessary to produce abortion.” However, an abortion is now legal in some circumstances, and many doctors perform this operation. The Oath has been changed and updated to fit in with new attitudes and medical practices – it is not a code which cannot be altered. At the moment, the British Medical Association (BMA) is campaigning to update the oath. They argue that it does not reflect the reality of medical practice today. They want the code to recognise that keeping people alive is not the only aim of health care. As R Weir wrote in 1992: 

“The achievement of…appropriate medical goals is more important than a literal adherence to an ancient oath whose religious and moral framework is of such limited relevance to contemporary medicine that the oath is frequently altered when used in medical school convocations and increasingly replaced entirely by other kinds of oaths, including those written by medical students themselves.” 

It is important to remember that the Voluntary Euthanasia Society was set up by a group of doctors and clergy in 1935. Today, the growing support of the medical profession for assisted dying will eventually help to change the law. 

NOTE: For those of you who are researching the subject of euthanasia in some detail, the Voluntary Euthanasia Society site also carries an in-depth listing of opinion surveys from the UK and around the world. Full academic references are given, together with a brief summary of the findings. Where possible, they’ve also included links to the research, if it can be found on the internet.