The historical context

The Hippocratic Oath, devised about 400 bc, probably by Hippocrates' students, is by far the best known of early codes. It formed the basis for codes governing both early Islamic and Christian medicine and remains the inspiration for their modern counterparts. Similar codes are to be found in many of the great medical traditions. The Caraka Samhita, for example, written by an Indian physician in the first century AD, covers confidentiality, considerateness to patients, and keeping abreast of medical knowledge. Comparable issues are dealt with in the sixth century Hebrew Book of Asaph Harofe and in a text on medical ethics by the tenth century Persian physician, Haly Abbas.

The direct forerunner of modern codes, the Code of Institutes and Precepts, was published in 1803 by the English physician, Thomas Perceval. This was to become the foundation for both the American and British Medical Associations' early codes. The twentieth century has seen these and other national codes complemented by a series of international declarations and by derivative documents dealing with particular areas of practice. Codes specific to psychiatry were initially derived from medical codes; for example, the American Psychiatric Association's code (published in 1973) was based on that of the American Medical Association.

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