Minister for Medical and Public Welfare Ma Subramanian has ordered a departmental inquiry into the matter.

Students being administered the Maharshi Charak Shapath at Madurai Medical CollegeScreengrab
news Controversy Sunday, May 01, 2022 - 16:13

The Dean of the Madurai Medical College Dr A Rathinavel was removed from the post by the Tamil Nadu government after first-year students were made to take the ‘Maharshi Charak Shapath (oath)’ instead of the Hippocratic oath that is conventionally administered after students received their white coats at the induction ceremony. The Charak Shapath has been criticised for being regressive and casteist, with doctors saying it is "completely out of sync with modern scientific medicine, modern social practices."

The incident in question took place at the Madurai Medical College on Saturday, April 30. According to the Times of India, the students reciting the Charaka oath drew the ire of Tamil Nadu Finance Minister Palanivel Thiaga Rajan, who was among the dignitaries on the dais. Reports stated that PTR took to the mic and said that he was shocked when he heard the new oath. “I always thought that the doctors took a Hippocratic oath. In fact, I’ve been recommending politicians to take the same oath,” he said. Earlier, when there were news reports that Charak Shapath may be adopted by the National Medical Council, there was wide opposition with many doctors pointing out that it was regressive and casteist. In fact, according to reports, the part of the shapath taken in the Madurai college included that a male doctor will not treat a female patient.

In a press note, the Tamil Nadu government said that the Hippocratic oath has been followed since time immemorial by all medical colleges. The note said that the replacement of the oath with the Hippocratic oath is condemnable, and removed the dean from his post and placed him on a waiting list. 

Minister for Medical and Public Welfare Ma Subramanian directed the Director of Medical Education, Dr Narayana Babu, to conduct a departmental inquiry into the matter as rules were violated. The government said it would advise heads of all state-run medical colleges through a circular to always follow the Hippocratic oath without fail.

The National Medical Commission had recently recommended that the Maharshi Charak Shapath should replace the Hippocratic oath. According to new guidelines, "Modified Maharshi Charak Shapath is recommended when a candidate is introduced to medical education." Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya had said in Parliament that 'Maharshi Charak Shapath' would be optional and not forced on medical students.

Charaka Shapath or Charaka oath, is a passage from the 'Charaka Samhita.' The Samhita is a Sanskrit text on Ayurveda. The Hippocratic oath is an ethical code attributed to the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates and it is widely used.

Earlier, a letter from a group of doctors in Karnataka said that Charak Shapath mandates things such as “growing of beard and hair”, “praying for cows and Brahmins,” “not treating those who are in opposition to the King or whom the physician or society may despise,” and also “not giving any priority or any treatment at all to those who are gravely ill.” 

“While the ancient Hippocratic oath makes a physician duty bound to his patients, without considering political positions or gender, it restrains from performing abortions. The modern oaths, belonging to the present, with tremendous advances in modern sciences and establishment of liberal democratic social structures, make it very clear that every human shall be treated equally and the physicians must be committed to treat fellow humans to the best of their abilities under any circumstances,” the doctors had said.

After there were reports and documents that the oath might be changed, the Union government in a Lok Sabha answer said that as informed by the National Medical Commission (NMC), there was no proposal to replace the Hippocratic oath.

Read: Charak Shapath is regressive: Karnataka doctors write to NMC against changes to oath

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