Is the World Medical Association going to change on euthanasia?

Even though the legalisation of euthanasia has been gathering momentum around the world, the World Medical Association has refused to support it. Last year, for instance, the WMA advised lawmakers in the Australian state of Victoria not to support it. In a letter it said that it "strongly encourages all national medical associations and physicians to refrain from participating in euthanasia, even if national law allows it or decriminalises it under certain conditions." (Unfortunately the legislation still passed.)

However, the Singaporean head of the FIAMC (Fédération Internationale des Associations de Médecins Catholiques), has issued a stark warning about impending changes in WMA policy.

Dr John Lee, the FIAMC president, claims that the WMA has “plans to introduce two policy measures to facilitate worldwide abortion and euthanasia by curtailing doctors’ conscientious objection”. In an open letter to the WMA leadership he writes:

a revision is being considered to the Declaration of Oslo on Therapeutic Abortion (2006). The proposal put forward by the Working Group on Abortion Policy (WGAP) explicitly requires referral and also requires that the physician who objects must nevertheless provide “safe abortion” in some circumstances.

Member associations in Canada and the Netherlands have also requested changes in the WMA’s policy on euthanasia which would state that euthanasia is a matter for an individual doctor’s conscience. Dr Lee warns that this opens the door to dragooning doctors into a euthanasia regime:

By saying that the WMA does not condemn physicians who perform euthanasia where it is legal, the WMA is saying that euthanasia can be ethical if it is legal. For Canada and the Netherlands, with now the most liberal euthanasia laws in the world, to ask the WMA to be neutral on the ethics of assisted suicide and euthanasia is to invite legalization in additional countries.

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...

The threat to medical ethos, predicated as it is on respecting life without equivocation, will cause irreparable damage to to the practice of medicine and undermine the standard of care. Doctors who have exercise their right of conscientious objection to abortion and euthanasia will find themselves victims of coercion by their professional societies and the State. Their commitment to heal the sick and to provide comfort to the dying will be undermined, as they are forced ... to violate their conscience or leave the profession altogether. This oppression of the silent majority by the vocal minority cannot end well.

If what Dr Lee says it true, it shows how easily factions can take over large organisations. If the WMA strongly encouraged conscientious objection last October, how can it retain its moral credibilty by flipping only months later?   

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet. 


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