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
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 . 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).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 .
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.
Mary Kathleen Deutscher Heilman, Tracy J. Trothen
Conscientious objection has become a divisive topic in recent bioethics publications. Discussion has tended to frame the issue in terms of the rights of the healthcare professional versus the rights of the patient. However, a rights-based approach neglects the relational nature of conscience, and the impact that violating one’s conscience has on the care one provides. Using medical assistance in dying as a case study, we suggest that what has been lacking in the discussion of conscientious objection thus far is a recognition and prioritising of the relational nature of ethical decision-making in healthcare and the negative consequences of moral distress that occur when healthcare professionals find themselves in situations in which they feel they cannot provide what they consider to be excellent care. We propose that policies that respect the relational conscience could benefit our healthcare institutions by minimising the negative impact of moral distress, improving communication among team members and fostering a culture of ethical awareness. Constructive responses to moral distress including relational cultivation of moral resilience are urged.
Heilman MKD, Trothen TJ. Conscientious objection and moral distress: a relational ethics case study of MAiD in Canada. J Med Ethics. 2020;46(2):123-127. doi:10.1136/medethics-2019-105855
The US case brings to light concerns around conscientious objection at a time when a federal religious discrimination bill is being debated in Australia
A woman has filed a lawsuit against a Thrifty White Pharmacy and a CVS Pharmacy in Minnesota in the US, alleging the two pharmacies illegally kept her from accessing emergency contraception.
Andrea Anderson, a 39-year-old mother of five, says she asked the pharmacist at her drugstore in Minnesota more than once why he couldn’t fill her prescription for emergency contraception, according to the Star Tribune.
“I then realised what was happening: he was refusing to fill my prescription for emergency contraception because he did not believe in it,” Ms Anderson said on Tuesday. . . [Full text]
James Downar, Eliana Close, Robert Sibbald
- The Ontario Superior Court of Justice recently determined that, under both Ontario’s health care consent legislation and common law, physicians do not require consent to withhold cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) that they believe to be medically inappropriate.
- Physicians in Ontario need to distinguish carefully between a scenario where CPR would be outside the standard of care and should not be offered and a scenario where CPR is within the standard of care but the physician does not feel it is in the patient’s best interests; each scenario demands a different response.
- Physicians still have a professional responsibility to communicate (or make reasonable efforts to communicate) honestly and compassionately about the limitations of CPR and the alternatives to aggressive care.
Downar J, Close E, Sibbald R. Do physicians require consent to withhold CPR that they determine to be nonbeneficial? CMAJ 2019 Nov 25; 191 (47) E1289-E1290; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.191196.
Critics of transgender treatment for children have been making heavy weather of persuading people that it could be medically dangerous. However, a well-documented feature in The Australian warns that transgender doctors could face class action suits if they continue to ignore research which claims that children are being harmed. . . [Full text]