Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 69(4) November 2019


World Medical Association Council meeting April 2019 - proposal regarding policy change relating to euthanasia and physician-assisted dying;
Catholic Medical Association (UK) response:

Editors note: In April  2019 the World Medical  Association is debated a change  sought by  doctors from  Canada and the Netherlands calling on the WMA to adopt a neutral position on euthanasia and / or assisted suicide as opposed to the current position of outright opposition. The revised official  position deletes the statement that  the act of deliberately ending the life of a patient, is unethical. Here [shortened a little] is the CMA (UK)’s response.

WMA LogoIt is a cause for major concern that some factions within the World Medical Association (WMA) are attempting to soften the Association’s longstanding opposition to euthanasia, even though the Association was originally founded in 1947 on the principle that euthanasia and other similar atrocities must never be allowed to happen again and that physicians must never collaborate with forces that seek to advocate euthanasia programmes.

A motion was brought to the WMA General Assembly meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland in October 2018 by delegations from Canada and The Netherlands, calling on the WMA to adopt a neutral position on euthanasia and / or assisted suicide as opposed to the current position of outright opposition. The motion was fortunately withdrawn due to a perceived lack of international support. If passed, it would not be long before enthusiastic support for euthanasia would become the norm if lessons are to be learned from the WMA abandonment of “the utmost respect for human life from conception” (from the original Declaration of Geneva 1948) and the gradual widespread acceptance of abortion.

We now learn that an alternative motion is to be put forward at the forthcoming WMA Council meeting in Santiago, due to take place April 25th to 27th this year. The current official position of the WMA on these issues is as follows:

“Euthanasia, that is the act of deliberately ending the life of a patient, even at the patient’s own request or at the request of close relatives, is unethical. This does not prevent the physician from respecting the desire of a patient to allow the natural process of death to follow its course in the terminal phase of sickness.” And, in relation to physician-assisted dying, “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 treatment 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.”

While this new proposed wording seems quite benign as it clearly reiterates that the WMA “is opposed to euthanasia and physician-assisted dying” it nevertheless represents a definite softening in this opposition. It is very likely that this softened approach is designed to appease the Canadian Medical Association whose leadership made the decision to resign from the WMA in 2018, allegedly due to ethical concerns over plagiarism in the inaugural speech made by the new incoming WMA President. It is possible, however, that the Canadian resignation may have been related to frustration or anger over the WMA not supporting its position on euthanasia. It could represent an effort by Canada to bully the WMA into gradually accepting that euthanasia may not be so abhorrent after all.

It is particularly surprising and perhaps sad that the proposed amendment is being brought forward by representatives from the German Medical Association. Of all the nations affiliated to the WMA, the last one to consider any move that could lead to acceptance that euthanasia or physician-assisted dying is anything other than unethical should be Germany, considering the lessons that should have been learned seventy odd years ago.

The Catholic Medical Association (UK) is of the firm opinion that maintaining current opposition to and outright condemnation of the practices of euthanasia and physician-assisted dying is the only ethical position that the World Medical Association should pursue. There is no need to change current policy relating to these issues.