World Medical Association urged to change policy against euthanasia, assisted suicide

Canadian & Royal Dutch Medical Association want censure dropped

Sean Murphy*

The President of the World Federation of the Catholic Medical Associations has disclosed that the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and Royal Dutch Medical Association (RDMA) have asked the World Medical Association to change its policy against euthanasia and physician assisted suicide.

The WMA issued a Declaration on Euthanasia in 19871 and a Resolution on Euthanasia  in 2002;2  they are now identical. The WMA Statement on Physician Assisted Suicide was made in 1992 and reaffirmed in 2005 and 2015:

Physician-assisted suicide, like euthanasia, is unethical and must be condemned by the medical profession. Where the assistance of the physician is intentionally and deliberately directed at enabling an individual to end his or her own life, the physician acts unethically. However the right to decline medical is a basic right of the patient, and the physician does not act unethically even if respecting such a wish results in the death of the patient.3

Writing to the President of the World Medical Association, Dr. John Lee stated that the CMA and RDMA suggested that existing policy be replaced with the following:

8. The WMA does not support euthanasia or physician assisted suicide, but WMA does not condemn physicians who follow their own conscience in deciding whether or not to participate in these activities, within the bounds of the legislation, in those jurisdictions where euthanasia and/or physician assisted dying are legalized.

9. No physician should be forced to participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide against their personal moral beliefs. Equally, no conscientiously objecting physician should be forced to refer a patient directly to another physician. Jurisdictions that legalize euthanasia or physician assisted suicide must provide mechanisms that will ensure access for those patients who meet the appropriate requirements. Physicians, individually or collectively, must not be made responsible for ensuring access.4

Dr. Lee also expressed opposition to a planned revision to the Declaration of Oslo concerning abortion, which, he said, would require objecting physicians to refer for abortions and even to provide them.  However, he commented at greater length on the proposed change to WMA policy on euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Based on the Canadian experience, acceptance of the ethical neutrality of medically-assisted death has resulted in almost immediate challenges for physicians who are unable to refer because of moral, religious, or ethical concerns. It is a serious problem, with physicians put in the impossible position of having to choose between their conscience and being allowed to continue to care for their patients.4

The Canadian roots of the CMA/RDMA proposal

Dr. Lee’s observations about developments in parts of Canada are accurate.  The text of paragraph 8 is very similar to the CMA resolution used by the CMA Board of Directors as the basis for reversing CMA policy against euthanasia and assisted suicide. . . [Full Text]

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