Hippocratic oath or Hypocritic oath

I remember around 10 years back, a friend who is a doctor, went to an impoverished locality in Karachi with a team to vaccinate children against some disease(s). Their team was harassed by some ignorant and mostly illiterate people who felt that such vaccination campaigns are part of a “western conspiracy” to harm them. “Why are you sticking needles in our children?” and so forth. This reaction was (is) quite common in Pakistan. However, over the years, some progress had been made in raising peoples awareness about diseases and prevention. These are our local problems. But these problems are exacerbated and whatever little progress that has been made on the local front recedes very quickly, when the imperial machine dives into the thick of things with its cold brutal logic. Here’s one story:

The US was trying to catch Osama bin Laden. In order to find bin Laden, the CIA launched a fraudulent vaccination campaign in a poor neighborhood in Abbottabad to collect DNA.  However, they left it uncompleted, and moved to a richer area where Osama was thought to be. This lapse in medical protocol violated, among other things, the Hippocratic oath. It also put at risk genuine health workers associated with a polio vaccination program in Pakistan (who were then also suspected to be spies), and many were abducted and killed. This forced the UN to withdraw its anti-polio team.

Quoting from a recent article that appeared in the Scientific American: “The distrust sowed by the sham campaign in Pakistan could conceivably postpone polio eradication for 20 years, leading to 100,000 more cases that might otherwise not have occurred, says Leslie F. Roberts of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “Forevermore, people would say this disease, this crippled child is because the U.S. was so crazy to get Osama bin Laden,” he argues.

The vaccination ruse also poses a moral problem. Physicians take a Hippocratic oath to do no harm. Humanitarian workers adhere to an international code of conduct that requires that their services be provided independently of national agendas, on the basis of need alone. The misguided vaccine program in Pakistan was started in a poor neighborhood of Abbottabad, no doubt to give it an air of legitimacy. Yet after the first in a standard series of three hepatitis B shots was given, the effort was abandoned so that the team could move to bin Laden’s wealthier community. This lapse in protocol proves that the best interests of the recipients were not the guiding principle of the effort—while not coincidently betraying the program for the sham it was.”

Of course, the Hippocratic oath might have been violated but the Hypocritic (sic) oath was upheld and that’s what really matters: All imperial states shall preach peace and democracy, while unleashing violence and destruction. 

This also reminds me of a story that St. Augustine narrates in the City of God:  A pirate was captured by Alexander the Great, who asked him how dare he molest the sea. “How dare you molest the whole world” the pirate replied. “Because I do it with a little ship only, I am called a thief; you, doing it with a great navy, are called an emperor”.

Enough said!

2 responses to “Hippocratic oath or Hypocritic oath”

  1. This is a very important issue. I am not a medical doctor but I think the Hippocratic Oath (HO) is essential – a basis of civilisation. Those who were knowingly involved in this scam should be held to account. In an ideal world they would be in the Hague. However, beyond medicine, this raises wider issues. I think it is incumbent on knowledge workers to think carefully about what they sign up to. There have been attempts to get economists to sign a kind of HO. But that isn’t going to solve our economic problems any time soon. Even in my own area of abstract and strange ideas in computer science (such as Artificial Life and Social Simulation) I’ve had to think deep and hard about direct military encroachment.

    I think these issues are only going to get more significant as time goes on. For example, consider the issues around Human Terrain Systems (HTS) and Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW). In the context of HTS the american anthropological association had to produce a statement to guide their members. 4GW proposes the idea that the line between civilian and military is becoming blurred in 21st century warfare. If there is any truth in this then it is incumbent on everyone to think about what they are doing.

    The positive here is that perhaps if enough people think then they can change the course of events for the better. I think most people believe in the medical HO and understand well why it exists. Most people understand the difference between military and civilian actors and know which group they are in. A little platoon of Pirates could be a force for good.

  2. Okay, that was interesting all right, just the piece I needed after all the NSA spy on you affair; illegal DNA profiling, cool, what’s next? rectal examinations black ops? Jesus.

    About the oath though, I think only those that you do voluntarily can be consider legitimate and, when it comes to doctors, either you make it or you don’t get licensed.

    In Spain we had to swear in the army something like we will give our lives when asked and loyalty to the King… What? You don’t want to? Sure, we have this nice prison for you.

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