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.