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World Medical Association seeks to revise the Hippocratic Oath

By David Stevens, MD, MA (Ethics) | March 10, 2016

Excerpted from World Medical Association to revise ‘Hippocratic Oath,” BioEdge. February 20, 2016 — It’s time to update the modern Hippocratic Oath, says the World Medical Association, a global organization of physicians which currently represents 112 national medical associations. The oath – which, somewhat confusingly, is called the Declaration of Geneva – was drafted 67 years ago, as a response to atrocities committed by Nazi doctors before and during World War II. Since then, only minor revisions have been made.

The WMA says that the ethical obligations of doctors may need to be redrafted to reflect social changes. “In recent decades, respect for patient self-determination has been established as one of the most important principles of medical ethics,” says the WMA. “However, it is not mentioned in the Declaration of Geneva.” The oath should also enjoin “mutual respect between students and teachers”, not just of students for their teachers.

The revision is to be entrusted to an international working group. There have been so many controversial issues in the practice of medicine in the past 70 years – abortion, euthanasia, cosmetic surgery, transgender surgery, on-line medical databases, genetic engineering, assisted reproduction, conscientious objection, to name a few. The working group has its work cut out.


Dr. David StevensCMDA CEO David Stevens, MD, MA (Ethics): “The Declaration of Geneva is quite a good document. I wouldn’t have any problem making ‘these promises solemnly, freely and upon my honor.’ I’m also for mutual respect between teachers and students, though I would maintain that our teachers do deserve special honor. Much of the art of medicine cannot be taught but only modeled and emulated.

“But the changes are unlikely to stop there....

“Will the new emphasis on patient autonomy go as far as the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists did in its Ethical Statement #385? It states that the patient’s right to demand treatment equals their right to choose or refuse treatment, which of course tramples on the autonomy of healthcare professionals and turns them into vending machines.

“What will be removed with this editing of the statement? I would expect edits such as, ‘I WILL PRACTICE my profession with conscience and dignity.’ This sentence will most certainly be removed, ‘I WILL MAINTAIN the utmost respect for human life.

With the huge schisms in society and medicine over moral and ethical issues, as well as the rapid pace of accepting ‘anything goes’ in healthcare, I doubt the World Medical Association will get to a consensus on a new statement and, if so, it won’t last long before there are demands to edit it again.”


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