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  • Writer's pictureD. Randall Faro

Other Side of the Coin

The Hippocratic Oath, the oldest fragments of it dating to AD 275, has been pledged by doctors for centuries. Almost all U.S. medical schools today either use an altered version of the original, or allow graduates to write their own oaths. Nevertheless, the traditional and well-known clause, First, do no harm, is either used verbatim or in substance.

Doing no harm, while obviously important, is not enough. Reading the entire Hippocratic Oath reveals the positive other side of the coin. The original form includes the words: Into whatsoever houses I enter, I will enter to help the sick. The text refers to what is being pledged as the “Healer’s Oath.” Put simply, doctors commit not to just refraining from doing harm, but to helping, improving, amending, assisting, and enhancing the lives of others.

Being an innocent bystander in the face of injustice or injury is not enough. I don’t want to get involved is not enough. If someone is mugged and bleeding copiously, a person who did not cause the injury but could help the victim and refrains from doing so is as culpable as the original offenders. That’s the point of “Good Samaritan” laws, the term taken from one of Jesus’ parables. One purpose of such laws is to protect from liability individuals who voluntarily offer assistance in dire situations. Some fifteen countries and several U.S. states also mandate assistance if and when possible.

Good Samaritan statutes in the states of Minnesota, Vermont, and Rhode Island require a person at the scene of an emergency to provide reasonable assistance to a person in need, which may be something as simple as calling 9-1-1. Other states are considering adding duty-to-assist provisions to their Good Samaritan statutes.

It would appear that most people do not wish to do harm, and act accordingly. Correspondingly, many of those same people take the second step of providing assistance if and when possible. This latter action is something that many more people would do well to practice.

It’s not my fault and it’s not my problem or responsibility. This mindset leaves victims in the lurch and contributes to the continuation of whatever damage may have befallen them. Albert Einstein said that the world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it. While one may, in fact, be quite limited in what one may do, there is almost always something.

For years I have been proclaiming: think big; act small. Meaning, carry out whatever helping acts are possible – most, for the average Jack or Jill, which will seem small in the grand scheme of things – and believe that they are in fact contributing to the well-being of life in our world.

Take food and/or contribute to the local food bank. Volunteer with or contribute to Doctors Without Borders. Give a box of food or clothes to a homeless person. Drive a disabled neighbor to appointments. The examples/opportunities are endless.

Do no harm . . . good idea. Helping people in need . . . just as important.

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