The "Hippocratic Oath" and the "Big Boom"

BFP Magazine

Cardio-vascular Health

Hippocratic Oath, Death

The "Hippocratic Oath" and the "Big Boom"

By Dr. W. Gifford Jones

2,000 years ago Jesus Christ preached, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". Certainly good advice for doctors or anyone else. Hippocrates added further sound advice suggesting that physicians treating patients should above all else, "do no harm". So are doctors using the "Hippocratic Oath" or a hypocritic oath when patients confront the final "Big Sleep".

Dr. Richard Reeves, Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto, recently presented interesting data that amused physicians at a meeting of The Royal College of Surgeons. But, rather than being used to entertain, the data should have underlined the hypocrisy of some medical thinking. Particularly since doctors are supposed to be the most informed about the process of dying.

Dr. Reeves and his colleague, Erulo Chen, interviewed physicians and pharmacists at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, on how they would most prefer to die. They agreed overwhelmingly that, when they finally had to face the "Big Sleep", the best way to go was from the "Big Boom" of a heart attack.

What about death from a car accident that could be even quicker than a coronary death? "No". Both physicians and pharmacists still placed heart attack at the top of the list by a majority of 23 to one!

This report simply verifies what every doctor knows. I've yet to hear any doctor confess in the privacy of the physician's lounge that he or she would prefer to end his or her days by Lou Gehrig's Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, or Parkinson's Disease. Debilitating, degenerative maladies are always first on the physician's list of least desirable diseases.

So as the immortal bard wrote, "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark". Or more to the point, there's something incongruous about how physicians want to die themselves and how they treat their patients departing this planet. After all, let's assume that it was possible today to eliminate sudden coronary attack. What would this accomplish? People would simply face the slow, agonizing demise of cancer and other degenerative illnesses in a few years.

Today we continually hear the phrase "death with dignity". It's a catchy cliche and reassuring to many people. But from the letters I receive about how loved ones died from cancer and other chronic maladies the process of dying from these problems in our high tech world still scares the hell out of me.

Death is never dignified even under the best of circumstances. The banker who drops dead from a heart attack while walking along Wall Street is hardly a dignified person while gasping for breath. All be it, for only a few moments. It's a different story when patients face the agonizing demise from cancer without adequate painkillers. And this happens day after day.

I may be missing a point. But it appears to me that doctors and the laity have their priorities wrong. For instance, why do we keep donating millions of dollars to the Heart Foundation to find a cure for the best way to die? Wouldn't it make more sense to contribute to organizations that are dedicated to relieving us of the worst ways to die?

So why are doctors, pharmaceutical companies and grocery store chains so gung©ho about protecting us from the diseases that provide "the best way" to die? And in the process making "cholesterol hypochrondiacs" of us during the latter part of a generally healthy life?

It all started when researchers believed they had found a connection between elevated blood cholesterol and atherosclerosis. Conglomerate food manufacturers soon realized they could make millions by damning dairy products.

Doctors and the media should have realized it was a "Madison Avenue Blitz" sponsored by corporations whose primary interest was the bottom line. And that incomplete research was putting farmers, hens and cows out of business for the wrong reasons.

Third©inning research, studies sponsored by companies aiming to confirm preconceived conclusions about cholesterol, unthinking physicians and Madison Avenue Blitz promotions have caused untold worry about the best disease to die from.

Every week I see elderly patients, some in their 80's, requesting a blood cholesterol test. No one has told them that the level of blood cholesterol is a poor indicator of heart disease after 50 years of age. That they would be better advised to lose weight, exercise, increase fiber intake, add vitamin C, And if they're still smoking to ask their doctors about the "Habitrol" nicotine patch to help rid them of this terrible health hazard.

What a shame that Madison Avenue can't find a way to make money out of Lou Gehrig's Disease and the other least desirable ways to die. Finding a cure for these problems would save patients untold agony. Then patients could compete with doctors on a level playing field. We could all finally die from the "Big Boom".Ô

W. Gifford-Jones M.D is the pen name of Dr. Ken Walker graduate of The Harvard Medical School. He's been a ship's surgeon, hotel physician and family doctor and later trained in surgery at McGill in Montreal, University of Rochester N.Y. and Harvard. His medical column is published by 60 Canadian newspapers and several in the U.S. He is the author of seven books. Dr. Walker has a medical practice in Toronto. His Web site is: He can be reached at

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