Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Medicine and physicians in Egypt… Hippocratic Oath

I first skipped through the book then I became attached to its contents… then I read slowly through some subheadings and so I became totally overwhelmed by the book and decided to read it carefully to grasp it well. While I was reading the book, the hot debate between Dr. Khaled Montaser and others around a certain kind of therapy erupted. Those others claim that this therapy is the best while Dr. Montaser insists it is a complete fiasco.

I found that I have already written about this case before when I published the message I got from my friend professor Dr. Sameh Morkos; Radiology professor at University of Sheffield. In his message – the one I published here a few weeks ago – Dr. Morkos detailed the ethics, rules and basics that should regulate the practice of medicine in Egypt and the necessity to tighten censorship over advertisements broadcasted on TV that do not commit to any professional, scientific or legal bases.

It is “Medicine and physicians in Egypt… building the professional identity and medical system” authored by Sylvia Schiphol, translated by Magda Abaza and edited by Tarek Youssef. The first thing that caught my attention is the prejudice towards the translator; Mrs. Magda Abaza as both the editor and the publisher – the national project for translation affiliated to the Supreme Council of Culture – did not enlist an introduction brief about the translator who did such taxing work of translation.

I also noticed that the book is an abridged version of a PhD thesis submitted in September, 1994 in EHESS under the supervision of Fani Colona. I was surprised that a European French scholar was interested in this subject, and I was even more astonished to find details combining between history, sociology, anthropology and culture in a very interesting narration and that all this is about Egypt… Egypt alone, except for some comparisons made to other countries. I can say it is a scientific piece of work that is both specialized and encyclopedic at the same time. Here, I would like to thank the one who chose this book to be translated, the translator and the editor.

Amidst the hot argument over stem cells’ therapy which we cannot separate from the ethics and rules of medicine practice, I found texts of Hippocrates’ wisdoms and oath in this book issued in 2005 by the Supreme Council of Culture. I will excerpt the whole texts here so that some of those who turned medicine into commerce and superstition may read them.

First, we read wisdoms of Hippocrates who was born on the Greek island of Kos in 460 B.C.. He is one of the most famous ancient physicians. He also lived for 95 years. The texts say: “medicine is about measurement and experiments”… “An illness that has a known cause shall have its cure”… “When people ate what carnivores eat, they became sick… when we fed them what birds eat, they became healthy”… “We eat to live; we don’t live to eat… “The sick shall seek medicine in the nature around him”. He was once asked: “why does the body go in a state of bustling if man was given cure?” he said: “because the house is dustier when you sweep it”… “Resisting the desire to eat is easier than curing illness”. One of Hippocrates’ best wisdoms is: “All I have of science is my knowledge that I am not a scientist”.

As to Hippocratic Oath, Muwaffaq ed-Din bin Abi-Usaybe’a has transferred it in his book Tabaqat el-Atibba’a or History of Physicians. Again, the book of “Medicine and physicians in Egypt… building the professional identity and medical system” has excerpted the oath saying: “I swear by Apollo The Healer, by Asclepius, by Hygieia, by Panacea, and by all the Gods and Goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will carry out, according to my ability and judgment, this oath and this indenture.
To hold my teacher in this art equal to my own parents; to make him partner in my livelihood; when he is in need of money to share mine with him; to consider his family as my own brothers, and to teach them this art, if they want to learn it, without fee or indenture; to impart precept, oral instruction, and all other instruction to my own sons, the sons of my teacher, and to indentured pupils who have taken the physician’s oath, but to nobody else.
I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but never with a view to injury and wrong-doing. Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course. Similarly I will not give to a woman a pessary to cause abortion. But I will keep pure and holy both my life and my art. I will not use the knife, not even, verily, on sufferers from stone, but I will give place to such as are craftsmen therein.
Into whatsoever houses I enter, I will enter to help the sick, and I will abstain from all intentional wrong-doing and harm, especially from abusing the bodies of man or woman, bond or free. And whatsoever I shall see or hear in the course of my profession, as well as outside my profession in my intercourse with men, if it be what should not be published abroad, I will never divulge, holding such things to be holy secrets.
Now if I carry out this oath, and break it not, may I gain for ever reputation among all men for my life and for my art; but if I transgress it and forswear myself, may the opposite befall me”.

My question now: do graduates of the faculty of medicine still swear on this oath? Is there anything that can force them not to violate this oath? Will con artists and frauds keep making use of this almost-sacred profession?

We shall have another tour in this book to tell you about Ibrahim en-Nabarawi, Muhammed Ali Pasha el-Baqli, Muhammed Fawzi Pek, Muhammed Durri Pasha… those dignified pioneers of this sacrosanct profession.

Regarding last week’s article titled “Sakalans”, I have received a lot of comments over it and I am very much interested in published a certain one that included an important addition. The comment was sent to me by Mr. Ahmed Lotfi, senior instructor of Aviation physics and ex-consultant of the British Military airplanes’ company for training affairs, as he introduced himself.

He wrote: “in Farag’s dictionary of Egyptian slang and folk expressions of craftsmen and artisans authored by Sami Farag on page 222: Sakalans is a slang expression meaning mix of many things without order. This expression is a distorted version of “Escolanza” which is a trade mark of a spirit drink that was common at the first half of the 20th century where raisins were mixed with wine and Brandy. This spirit drink used to lead quickly to intoxication and insobriety. The word Escolanza is probably derived from the Italian word “Mescolanza” meaning mix or diverse. Also, it is near in meaning to Hybrid”… thanks a lot to Mr. Ahmed Lotfi.

This article was published in Almasry alyoum newspaper in May 19, 2015.

To see the original article, go to:

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