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  • D. Randall Faro

A Crying Shame

Historically, as a step toward becoming a doctor, medical students were required to take the Hippocratic Oath. And one of the promises within that oath is "first, do no harm." While some medical schools ask their graduates to abide by the Hippocratic Oath, others use a different pledge — or none at all. And, in fact, although "first, do no harm" is attributed to the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, it isn’t a part of the Hippocratic Oath at all. It is actually from another of his works called Of the Epidemics.

Whether or not a prospective doctor is required to take an oath with that specific phrase, the fact is that doctors will of necessity do harm in plying the healing trade. Example. Two dear friends of mine during the past year both had total leg amputations. To remove a patient’s let is to undeniably cause harm to the individual. But in the case of both of my friends, it was done to save their lives . . . which both of them would posit was the greater good.

Put simply, in a great deal of life’s decisions, all the options include some negative – or harmful – aspects. The question is: which option will do the least harm. Even given that principle, there will always be different judgments on which action will, in any particular situation, result in more or less harm. This is true on a small-scale level (do I spank my child in an attempt to induce a certain behavior?), or on an epic-scale level (does a nation go to war for some supposedly greater good?).


Notwithstanding the aforementioned examples, I posit that using the guide of do no harm (or do the least harm) is not enough. Put another way, there are many situations in life where doing nothing – refusing to get involved – perpetuates harm that is being experienced by a person or a group.

Long ago a fellow named Jesus told a story about a man mugged and left to die in a ditch. Two different individuals travelling down the road saw the bleeding and barely conscious man and chose to ignore him and continue on their way. Indeed, they did not cause the harm . . . but neither did they assist the man in need. A third individual who came along and saw the ailing fellow, patched him up, and took him to the nearest town for medical care . . . even paying the tab for him. At the end of the story, Jesus said that the individual who aided the mugged guy – at some risk and expense to himself – is the one to emulate.


Doing no harm – or the least harm given the options – is one good principle by which to live. Another one is using one’s own voice and hands and efforts to help those suffering harm. This is true for both those suffering due to no fault of their own and those who made bad choices . . . and especially when

either are in situations where they cannot help themselves.

The organization Doing Good Together (doinggoodtogether.org) professes this as their purpose:

“In a culture that so often appears to reward materialism and greed, practicing kindness and serving others is a powerful way to pass on the values of empathy, thoughtfulness, and social responsibility. When we intentionally focus on “giving back,” we address real, immediate community needs; bring joy, longevity and health benefits to our families; and create hope for the planet’s future by instilling the spirit of giving in a new generation.”


Let’s do good together. To not do so is a crying shame.


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