The WMA and the Foundations of Medical Practice

Declaration of Geneva (1948), International Code of Medical Ethics (1949)

Sean Murphy, Ramona Coelho, Philippe D. Violette, Ewan C. Goligher, Timothy Lau, Sheila Rutledge Harding

The WMA and the Foundations of Medical Practice

Practising Medicine “with conscience and dignity”

Beginning with the Declaration of Geneva (the Declaration), for over 70 years the World Medical Association (WMA) has maintained that physicians must practise medicine with conscience and dignity [1]. On the Declaration’s 70th anniversary, seven associate WMA members raised serious concerns about their ability to remain in medical practice if they fulfil this obligation by refusing to support or collaborate in the killing of their patients by euthanasia and assisted suicide (EAS)[2].The physicians practise in Canada, where euthanasia and assisted suicide (EAS) are legal, [3,4] recognized as therapeutic medical services by the national medical association [5,6] and provided through a public health care system controlled by the state, which also regulates medical practice and medical ethics. The national government is now poised to make EAS available for any serious and incurable medical condition, vastly increasing the number of patients legally eligible for the service [7].

In these circumstances, it is urgent to reassert that the duty to practise medicine “with conscience and dignity” includes unyielding refusal to do what one believes to be wrong even in the face of overwhelming pressure exerted by the state, the medico-legal establishment and even by medical leaders and colleagues. That the founders of the WMA not only supported but expected such principled obstinacy is evident in the WMA’s early history and the development of the Declaration, all of which remain surprisingly relevant . . .


Murphy S, Coelho R, Violette PD, Goligher EC, Lau T, Harding SR. The WMA and the Foundations of Medical Practice: Declaration of Geneva (1948), International Code of Medical Ethics (1949) . WMJ [Internet]. 2020 Aug; 66(3): 2-8.

Dutch cardinal: Priests should ‘speak clearly’ on assisted suicide

Catholic News Agency

Andrea Gagliarducci

Vatican City, Dec 16, 2019 / 05:06 pm (CNA).- A priest must say clearly to a person opting for assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia that he is committing a grave sin, a Dutch cardinal told CNA this week.

For the same reason, a priest cannot be present when voluntary euthanasia or assisted suicide is performed. This might imply that the priest has no problems with the decision or even that “these morally illicit acts are not such in some circumstances according to the teaching of the Church,” Cardinal Willelm Eijk, Archbishop of Utrecht and an expert on euthanasia issues, told CNA. . . [Full text]

Archbishop Paglia says priests can be present at assisted suicide

Catholic Herald

Hannah Brockhaus

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said Tuesday that he would be willing to hold the hand of someone dying from assisted suicide, and that he does not see that as lending implicit support for the practice.

Paglia spoke at a December 10 press conference preceding a two-day symposium on palliative care, being sponsored by the Pontifical Academy for Life and the WISH initiative, part of the Qatar Foundation. . . [Full text]

Position Paper of the Abrahamic Monotheistic Religions on Matters Concerning the End of Life

The position of Abrahamic religions on end of life and palliative care

News Release

Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development

Yesterday 28 October at the Casina PIo IV in the Vatican, 40 representatives of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths signed the joint Position Paper of the Abrahamic monotheistic religions on matters concerning the end of life.

Invited by the Pontifical Academy for Life, presided over by His Excellency Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the religious, including the Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development Peter K. A. Turkson, have committed themselves in 12 points to stating that euthanasia and assisted suicide are morally and intrinsically wrong and should be prohibited without exception. Any pressure and action on patients to end their lives is categorically rejected.

A very important point for the mission of the Dicastery is that concerning  Health Care Workers that states that no health care worker should be forced or subjected to pressure to witness directly or indirectly the deliberate and intentional death of a patient through assisted suicide or any form of euthanasia, especially when such practices go against the health care worker’s religious beliefs, because there should be always respect for conscientious objection to acts that conflict with a person’s ethical values. This remains valid, continues the Paper, even if such acts have been declared legal at a local level or by categories of persons.

Very significant, the joint declaration also addresses the spiritual and material accompaniment of the terminally ill and their families, as well as the use of medical technology at the end of life and the promotion of palliative care.

World Medical Association Reaffirms Opposition to Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide

News Release

World Medical Association

The World Medical Association has reaffirmed its long-standing policy of opposition to euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.

After an intensive process of consultation with physicians and non physicians around the world, the WMA at its annual Assembly in Tbilisi, Georgia, adopted a revised Declaration on Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide.

This states: ‘The WMA reiterates its strong commitment to the principles of medical ethics and that utmost respect has to be maintained for human life. Therefore, the WMA is firmly opposed to euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.’

It adds: ‘No physician should be forced to participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide, nor should any physician be obliged to make referral decisions to this end.’

The Declaration says: ‘Separately, the physician who respects the basic right of the patient to decline medical treatment does not act unethically in forgoing or withholding unwanted care, even if respecting such a wish results in the death of the patient.’

The revised Declaration defines euthanasia as ‘a physician deliberately administering a lethal substance or carrying out an intervention to cause the death of a patient with decision-making capacity at the patient’s own voluntary request.’

It says that physician-assisted suicide ‘refers to cases in which, at the voluntary request of a patient with decision-making capacity, a physician deliberately enables a patient to end his or her own life by prescribing or providing medical substances with the intent to bring about death.’

WMA Chair Dr. Frank Ulrich Montgomery said: ‘Having held consultative conferences involving every continent in the world, we believe that this revised wording is in accord with the views of most physicians worldwide.’