Grassroots Commentary

First Do No Harm

Rona Swanson · May 29, 2014

Primum non nocere is a Latin phrase that means “first, do no harm.” It has been inaccurately attributed to the Hippocratic Oath of doctors. The phrase is sometimes recorded as primum nil nocere. While the phrase is not verbatim in the Oath, its message of Non-maleficence, which is derived from the maxim, is. It is one of the principal precepts of bioethics that all healthcare students are taught in school and is a fundamental principle throughout the world. Another way to state it is that, “given an existing problem, it may be better not to do something, or even to do nothing, than to risk causing more harm than good.” It is the pause to consider, a chance to think something through. It reminds the health care provider that they must consider the possible harm that any intervention might do. It is invoked when debating the use of an intervention that carries an obvious risk of harm but a less certain chance of benefit.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we would keep that phrase and concept before us always?

There are times when we take actions that may be well-intentioned, but they do much more harm than good.

In today’s politically-charged atmosphere, when one off-the-cuff statement can cause a firestorm, may we be careful and thoughtful.

Like a surgeon with a scalpel, may we develop a plan, know where we are going, and how we are going to get there. If there must be an incision, may we make it as small and as non-invasive as possible.

We have challenges and problems in our world today.

It is so easy to want to jump into the melee and come out swinging like a bar-room brawl.

Imagine trying to actually conduct a surgical procedure in that environment.

People get hurt and hurt badly and we never really know how and why because it is such frantic and unchoreographed behavior.

First…do not harm.

Once we get past that hurdle, that warning, that blessed instruction, we can look for a remedy for the ills that surround us and, with a steady hand and open heart, seek to heal.

Isaiah 11:9, Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB): "None will harm or destroy another on My entire holy mountain, for the land will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the sea is filled with water.“

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