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Controversy surrounds Canadian Medical Association’s withdrawal from world body

by | Oct 22, 2018

What is the real reason CMA withdrew?

By Michael Cook

As we have already reported, the Canadian Medical Association resigned suddenly and dramatically from the World Medical Association at the WMA’s annual meeting in Reykjavik. The president of the CMA, Dr Gigi Osler, explained that the incoming president of the WMA, Dr Leonid Eidelman, had plagiarised a few sentences from press releases and blogs and from a speech given by the former CMA president, Dr Chris Simpson.

“As an organization that holds itself as the arbiter of medical ethics at the global level, the WMA has failed to uphold its own standards,” said Dr Gigi Osler, the current CMA president. “The CMA cannot, in all good conscience, continue to be a member of such an organization.”

To observers, this seemed like a bizarre reason for storming out of the WMA. In a letter to associate members of the CMA, the WMA Secretary-General explained that Dr Eidelman had apologised and explained that his text had been written by speechwriters. Since English is the fourth language of Dr Eidelman, a Latvian migrant to Israel, this seems plausible.

In Kloiber’s version of events,

The Council (and later the General Assembly) accepted this apology and did not grant the CMA delegation’s request to ask for his immediate resignation. The CMA delegation then left the room and formally resigned later the same day.

What was the real reason? The CMA insists that it the WMA’s low ethical standards. However, it could be due to the WMA’s refusal to alter its opposition to euthanasia. WMA’s current policy is:

“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, euthanasia and assisted suicide are now legal in Canada and strongly supported by the CMA. In fact, the Canadian and Dutch delegations tried to get the WMA to adopt a position of neutrality. This failed, as did a German attempt to soften the WMA’s stand by changing the words “physician-assisted suicide” to “physician-assisted death” and changing “unethical and must be condemned” to “physicians should not engage” in such activities.

Another irritation for the Canadian delegation at Reykjavik must surely have been a long article in the latest issue of the WMA’s official journal by several Canadian physicians entitled “Euthanasia in Canada: a Cautionary Tale.” These dissidents argued that “The introduction of euthanasia in Canada has caused doubt, conflict and crisis” and that a change in WMA policy would be “ill-advised.”

The CMA’s draft Code of Ethics and Professionalism does not even mention euthanasia, but there is substantial opposition to it amongst Canadian doctors, as the article shows.

“What does the resignation of the CMA from the WMA teach us?” asks Mark Komrad, an American associate member of the WMA, in the Psychiatric Times  “Doctors killing patients is OK. But copying small parts of speeches is real evil, so evil in fact that it merits leaving the international community of Medicine.”

Editor’s note. This appeared at Bioedge and is reposted with permission.

Categories: Medical Ethics