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Should medical students take Hippocratic Oath or Charak Shapath?
Excellent question. All medical students take an oath upon graduation before entering the medical profession as doctors. I studied MBBS in India and I took the Hippocratic Oath upon graduation. Recently in India, Indian Medical Association has been encouraging medical schools to use Charak Shapath instead of Hippocratic Oath. Madurai Medical College administered the Charak Shapath in Sanskrit instead of Hippocratic Oath in English. The Government of Tamil Nadu fired the Dean of the medical school immediately. It gave strict orders only to use the Hippocratic Oath in the English language. I think the Government of Tamil Nadu did the right thing.
First, let us see, what in the world is the Charaka Shapath?
It is an oath borrowed from a Sanskrit text on Ayurveda called ‘Charaka Samhita’. It dates back to the second century BC.
First let us see the contents of this Oath.
Charak Shapath says,
“Thou shalt lead the life of a celibate, grow thy hair and beard, speak only the truth, eat no meat, eat only pure articles of food, be free from envy and carry no arms”
‘ Thou shalt lead the life of a celibate’. That means you should not get married. You should not have sex. Is that practical advice in today’s society?
‘Don’t eat meat’: How many of these doctors stay as vegetarians? How does that matter to provide treatment? Many great doctors eat meat. You don’t have to be a vegetarian to be a good doctor. But Charaka forces vegetarianism on doctors. It is speaking to Brahmins, who are mostly vegetarians. You can see the casteism that plagued India for millennia.
‘Grow thy hair and beard’: So, it presumes the doctors are only men. They must also grow their hair and beard. How can you force doctors to grow beards?
Then, let us see what the Charaka says about Medical Ethics. How should doctors behave towards their patients? It says, I quote,
“No persons, who are hated by the king, or who are haters of the king or who are hated by the public, shall receive treatment. Similarly, those that are very unnatural, wicked and miserable in character and conduct, those who have not vindicated their honor and those that are on the point of death and similarly women who are unattended by their husbands or guardians shall not receive treatment.”
Note those words: ‘No persons, who are hated by the king or who are haters of the king or who are hated by the public shall receive treatment’: So, according to Charaka, if a patient comes to you sick, first you should check his background. Is he or she hated by the king? Does the patient hate the king? What is the public opinion about this patient? If the doctor finds out that the king does not like you, or you don’t like the king or the society at large does not like you, then he will deny you the treatment. In today’s world, if you don’t like Modi or Modi does not like you, the doctor should refrain from providing you any medical treatment. Is that what you want?
Then it says, ‘Similarly, those that are very unnatural, wicked and miserable character and conduct shall not receive treatment’. So, before he provides you the treatment, the doctor must first decide your character. Are you a good person? Are you natural or unnatural? Are you wicked? Do you have miserable character and conduct? Who decides who is miserable? Who decides who is wicked? If the doctor thinks you are wicked or have a miserable character, he can deny you the treatment.
‘Those that are on the point of death shall not receive treatment’: So, no Emergency Room treatments for any one on the brink of death.
‘similarly women who are unattended by their husbands or guardians shall not receive treatment’. So, women cannot go to a doctor without a husband or a guardian. Single women: No Entry.
Compare Charaka with the Hippocratic Oath. Let me read a few sentences from Hippocratic Oath.
“I will respect the privacy of my patients” – My patient’s politics, religion, character and conduct are none of my business. Hippocratic Oath values the privacy of the patient. Doctor must mind his own business. He or she should not judge whether the patient is wicked or miserable.
“I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being”
I am not treating a fever chart or a cancerous growth, but a sick human being. Any sick human being irrespective of his caste, creed, gender and color is my patient.
“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.”
I have special obligations to all my fellow human beings. Hippocratic Oath says that a doctor should treat all human beings equally. It stands on a higher moral ground than Charaka.
All of a sudden, why this fascination with Charaka Shapath?
The answer is simple. The federal government wants to emphasize the Hindutva aspect of Indian medicine. It is coming from nativism and supremacism. ‘Hippocratic Oath is Western, let us use an Indian text like Charaka’. This is quite hypocritical. Everything the MBBS student studies in the medical school is Western medicine. Are you going to throw away the Western medicine and study Ayurveda? They are leading a double life. They say, ‘I will study Western medicine and then I will use Charaka Shapath from Ayurveda’. Either study Western medicine and take the Hippocratic oath or study Ayurveda and take Charaka Shapath. Don’t mix the two.
Ayurveda is not a medical science. Modern medicine follows a scientific path. Let us take Covid for example. What causes Covid? A virus. Understand the structure of the virus and prepare a vaccine to defeat it. Produce medications that really help the patient to survive after the infection with this virus. Use statistics to understand the efficiency of your vaccines and medications. If statistics do not provide evidence, don’t use those vaccines and medications. Evidence based medicine follows statistics. Ayurveda doctors should provide such evidence and statistical basis for their claims. During the Covid season, many Ayurveda doctors claimed that their medicines would stop the Covid virus. Such outlandish claims only made them look foolish. The Western medicine produced real vaccines and real medicines to combat Covid virus. That cannot be said about Ayurveda or Homeopathy or natural medicine.
Then there is Supremacism. These medical students are told to recite Charaka Shapath in Sanskrit, a language they don’t even understand. Only 50,000 people in India speak in Sanskrit. English is loved all over India. It is a language across the borders as you move from state to state. It is politically neutral. Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs and others can speak to each other in English with a neutral spirit. That is not possible with Sanskrit. Sanskrit is a religious language. It is associated with Hindutva. When you demand that everyone must do it in Sanskrit, you are rubbing your religion on others. When you demand that Christian and Muslim students must take their oath in Sanskrit, they don’t feel comfortable. They appreciate taking their oaths in the English language.
Many people in South India don’t understand Hindi. You should not demand that they should learn Hindi and take their oath in Hindi. So, taking Charaka oath in Sanskrit is nothing but rubbing your supremacist feelings on others.
The English language brought ideas of liberalism into Indian thought. Medicine is a profession where the doctor must treat every patient with respect and dignity. As we have seen, Charaka Shapath is rife with casteism, inequality, intolerance and irrationalism that plagued Indian society for millennia. So, my answer to your question is, we should use Hippocratic Oath in the English language rather than taking Charaka Shapath in sanskrit.
I hope I answered your question. Thank you.