When young men and women around the world studying to be doctors complete their medical training, they take what is called the Hippocratic Oath, promising to do their best to serve patients, male and female, young and old, with care and understanding. Hippocrates was a physician who lived in Greece more than 2,000 years ago, and his oath, his words for doctors to live by, live on today.
Doctors across the globe live and work by the Hippocratic Oath, and every doctor who lives in a country that is a member of the World Health Organization (WHO) swears to uphold the declarations in this ancient text, regardless of political affiliation or ideology.
"I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow," states a modern version of the Hippocratic Oath, written in 1964 by a doctor at the prestigious School of Medicine at Tufts University in Boston. "I will not be ashamed to say `I know not,' nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient's recovery. In addition, I will try to prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure. I will also remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings."
In addition to the time-honored Hippocratic Oath, the General Assembly of the World Medical Association at Geneva in 1948 published a global declaration of a doctor's dedication to the humanitarian goals of the medical profession. This Declaration of Geneva was intended to update the Oath of Hippocrates, and states in part, "As a member of the medical profession, I solemnly pledge myself to consecrate my life to the service of humanity."
In addition, the Declaration of Geneva notably proclaims: "I will not permit consideration of religion, nationality, race, party, politics or social standing to intervene between my duty and my patients."
Every professional doctor in China knows and understands what the Hippocratic Oath and the Declaration of Geneva are all about. For the leaders of their country to stand in opposition to Taiwan joining the WHO as "a health entity with observer status," as Taiwan's government has requested, is a slap in the face to both an honored, ancient oath and a modern, principled declaration.
As Dennis Hickey, a professor at Southwest Missouri State University, has noted on this page, Taiwan's participation in the WHO may not be a panacea or a magic bullet for the WHO's efforts in future SARS or bird-flu epidemic prevention, but it will help considerably. For doctors in China to continue to support their government's practice of "health apartheid" against Taiwan is unconscionable.
Doctors are doctors, regardless of ideology or ethnic background. A doctor in Taiwan takes the same Hippocratic Oath and follows the same Declaration of Geneva as a doctor in China does, and it is time for every doctor in China to stand up for the right of doctors and health professionals in Taiwan to become "observers" in the WHO.
To refuse to recognize the right of Taiwan to have observer status in the WHO is to reject the Hippocratic Oath and all that it stands for.
The next flu epidemic is inevitable, as Klaus Stohr, a WHO influenza expert, stated at an international press conference in Thailand last year. Stohr noted dramatically that a future flu pandemic could cause the deaths of an estimated 4 million people worldwide. Other medical experts, among them Shigeru Omi, the regional director of the WHO's Western Pacific Office, suggest that more than 10 million or 20 million deaths may result, and perhaps as many as 100 million.