The WMA and the Foundations of Medical Practice

Declaration of Geneva (1948), International Code of Medical Ethics (1949)

Sean Murphy, Ramona Coelho, Philippe D. Violette, Ewan C. Goligher, Timothy Lau, Sheila Rutledge Harding

The WMA and the Foundations of Medical Practice

Practising Medicine “with conscience and dignity”

Beginning with the Declaration of Geneva (the Declaration), for over 70 years the World Medical Association (WMA) has maintained that physicians must practise medicine with conscience and dignity [1]. On the Declaration’s 70th anniversary, seven associate WMA members raised serious concerns about their ability to remain in medical practice if they fulfil this obligation by refusing to support or collaborate in the killing of their patients by euthanasia and assisted suicide (EAS)[2].The physicians practise in Canada, where euthanasia and assisted suicide (EAS) are legal, [3,4] recognized as therapeutic medical services by the national medical association [5,6] and provided through a public health care system controlled by the state, which also regulates medical practice and medical ethics. The national government is now poised to make EAS available for any serious and incurable medical condition, vastly increasing the number of patients legally eligible for the service [7].

In these circumstances, it is urgent to reassert that the duty to practise medicine “with conscience and dignity” includes unyielding refusal to do what one believes to be wrong even in the face of overwhelming pressure exerted by the state, the medico-legal establishment and even by medical leaders and colleagues. That the founders of the WMA not only supported but expected such principled obstinacy is evident in the WMA’s early history and the development of the Declaration, all of which remain surprisingly relevant . . .


Murphy S, Coelho R, Violette PD, Goligher EC, Lau T, Harding SR. The WMA and the Foundations of Medical Practice: Declaration of Geneva (1948), International Code of Medical Ethics (1949) . WMJ [Internet]. 2020 Aug; 66(3): 2-8.

Sex and gender: modifiers of health, disease, and medicine

Franck Mauvais-Jarvis, Noel Bairey Merz, Peter J Barnes, Roberta D Brinton, Juan-Jesus Carrero, Dawn L DeMeo, Geert J De Vries,C Neill Epperson, Ramaswamy Govindan, Sabra L Klein, Amedeo Lonardo, Pauline M Maki, Louise D McCullough, Vera Regitz-Zagrosek,Judith G Regensteiner, Joshua B Rubin, Kathryn Sandberg, Ayako Suzuki,

Sex and gender: modifiers of health, disease, and medicine

Summary

Clinicians can encounter sex and gender disparities in diagnostic and therapeutic responses. These disparities are noted in epidemiology, pathophysiology, clinical manifestations, disease progression, and response to treatment. This Review discusses the fundamental influences of sex and gender as modifiers of the major causes of death and morbidity. We articulate how the genetic, epigenetic, and hormonal influences of biological sex influence physiology and disease, and how the social constructs of gender affect the behaviour of the community, clinicians, and patients in the health-care system and interact with pathobiology. We aim to guide clinicians and researchers to consider sex and gender in their approach to diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of diseases as a necessary and fundamental step towards precision medicine, which will benefit men’s and women’s health.


Mauvais-Jarvis F, Bairey Merz N, Barnes PJ, Brinton RD, Carrero J-J, DeMeo DL, De Vries GJ, Epperson CN, Govindan R, Klein SL, Lonardo A, Maki PM, McCullough LD, Regitz-Zagrosek V, Regensteiner JG, Rubin JB, Sandberg K, Suzuki A. Sex and gender: modifiers of health, disease, and medicine. The Lancet; 2020 Aug 22 396(10250): 565-582. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)31561-0

Beyond Money: Conscientious Objection in Medicine as a Conflict of Interests

Alberto Giubilini, Julian Savulescu

Beyond Money: Conscientious Objection in Medicine as a Conflict of Interests

Abstract

Conflict of interests (COIs) in medicine are typically taken to be financial in nature: it is often assumed that a COI occurs when a healthcare practitioner’s financial interest conflicts with patients’ interests, public health interests, or professional obligations more generally. Even when non-financial COIs are acknowledged, ethical concerns are almost exclusively reserved for financial COIs. However, the notion of “interests” cannot be reduced to its financial component. Individuals in general, and medical professionals in particular, have different types of interests, many of which are non-financial in nature but can still conflict with professional obligations. The debate about healthcare delivery has largely overlooked this broader notion of interests. Here, we will focus on health practitioners’ moral or religious values as particular types of personal interests involved in healthcare delivery that can generate COIs and on conscientious objection in healthcare as the expression of a particular type of COI. We argue that, in the healthcare context, the COIs generated by interests of conscience can be as ethically problematic, and therefore should be treated in the same way, as financial COIs.


Giubilini A, Savulescu J. Beyond Money: Conscientious Objection in Medicine as a Conflict of Interests. Bioethical Inquiry 17, 229–243 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11673-020-09976-9

Conscientious objection and moral distress: a relational ethics case study of MAiD in Canada

Mary Kathleen Deutscher Heilman, Tracy J. Trothen

Conscientious objection and moral distress: a relational ethics case study of MAiD in Canada

Abstract: Conscientious objection has become a divisive topic in recent bioethics publications. Discussion has tended to frame the issue in terms of the rights of the healthcare professional versus the rights of the patient. However, a rights-based approach neglects the relational nature of conscience, and the impact that violating one’s conscience has on the care one provides. Using medical assistance in dying as a case study, we suggest that what has been lacking in the discussion of conscientious objection thus far is a recognition and prioritising of the relational nature of ethical decision-making in healthcare and the negative consequences of moral distress that occur when healthcare professionals find themselves in situations in which they feel they cannot provide what they consider to be excellent care. We propose that policies that respect the relational conscience could benefit our healthcare institutions by minimising the negative impact of moral distress, improving communication among team members and fostering a culture of ethical awareness. Constructive responses to moral distress including relational cultivation of moral resilience are urged.


Heilman MKD, Trothen TJ. Conscientious objection and moral distress: a relational ethics case study of MAiD in Canada. J Med Ethics. 2020;46(2):123-127. doi:10.1136/medethics-2019-105855

Woman suing two pharmacies after being denied emergency contraception

The US case brings to light concerns around conscientious objection at a time when a federal religious discrimination bill is being debated in Australia

Sheshtyn Paola

Woman suing two pharmacies after being denied emergency contraception

A woman has filed a lawsuit against a Thrifty White Pharmacy and a CVS Pharmacy in Minnesota in the US, alleging the two pharmacies illegally kept her from accessing emergency contraception.

Andrea Anderson, a 39-year-old mother of five, says she asked the pharmacist at her drugstore in Minnesota more than once why he couldn’t fill her prescription for emergency contraception, according to the Star Tribune.

“I then realised what was happening: he was refusing to fill my prescription for emergency contraception because he did not believe in it,” Ms Anderson said on Tuesday. . . [Full text]

Paola S. Woman suing two pharmacies after being denied emergency contraception. Australian Pharm J [Internet]. 2019 Dec 12.

The Independence of Judicial Conscience

Barry W. Bussey

The Independence of Judicial Conscience

. . . Competence and character are no longer the sole criteria for evaluating a judicial nominee; candidates face a climate which demands they have the “correct” moral opinions on fundamental human rights issues. Those
issues include abortion, marriage, and the euphemistically-termed Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD). . . to disregard the judicial conscience is to compromise the dignity of the judge, the worth of her convictions, the fullness of her humanity. Even more, it undermines the very essence of what distinguishes a democratic society characterized by diversity, inclusion, and freedom.


Bussey BW. The Independence of Judicial Conscience. J Christian Legal Thought. 2019; 9(2): 34-37.

Do physicians require consent to withhold CPR that they determine to be nonbeneficial?

James Downar, Eliana Close, Robert Sibbald

Do physicians require consent to withhold CPR that they determine to be nonbeneficial?

Key Points

  • The Ontario Superior Court of Justice recently determined that, under both Ontario’s health care consent legislation and common law, physicians do not require consent to withhold cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) that they believe to be medically inappropriate.
  • Physicians in Ontario need to distinguish carefully between a scenario where CPR would be outside the standard of care and should not be offered and a scenario where CPR is within the standard of care but the physician does not feel it is in the patient’s best interests; each scenario demands a different response.
  • Physicians still have a professional responsibility to communicate (or make reasonable efforts to communicate) honestly and compassionately about the limitations of CPR and the alternatives to aggressive care.

Downar J, Close E, Sibbald R. Do physicians require consent to withhold CPR that they determine to be nonbeneficial? CMAJ 2019 Nov 25; 191 (47) E1289-E1290; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.191196.

Colorado End-of-Life Options Act

A Clash of Organizational and Individual Conscience

Matthew Wynia

Journal of the American Medical Association

The 2016 Colorado End-of-Life Options Act includes a provision unique among states with such laws, specifically privileging individual health care professionals, including physicians and pharmacists, to choose whether to write and fill prescriptions for life-ending medications, such as high-dose secobarbital or various combinations of morphine, diazepam, beta-blockers, and digoxin, without regard to the position their employer has taken on the law. This provision virtually guaranteed the Colorado law would eventually be challenged, which happened in August 2019.1 The current legal case directly pits the conscience rights of individual health care professionals against those of religiously affiliated corporations. Because 5 of the top 10 US hospital systems by net revenue are now religiously affiliated,2 and these systems often restrict medical care in a variety of ways,3 how the case is resolved could have far-reaching implications for US health care, extending well beyond the relatively rare use of aid-in-dying medications at the end of life.


Wynia M. Colorado End-of-Life Options Act: A Clash of Organizational and Individual Conscience. JAMA. 2019;322(20):1953-1954. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.16438

In the Footsteps of Teiresias: Treatment for Gender Dysphoria in Children and the Role of the Courts

Mike O’Connor, Bill Madden

Journal of Law and Medicine

The Family Court of Australia has stepped back from a previously perceived need for involvement in the approval of stage 1 and stage 2 treatments, for children requiring gender transformation. At present those children and their families who are in agreement need not seek authorisation of the Family Court to undertake either Stage 1 (pubarche blockade with gonadotrophin-releasing hormone agonists) or Stage 2 treatment (cross-hormone therapy such as oestrogen for transgender males). Stage 1 treatment to suppress pubarche would nowadays be commenced at Tanner stage 2 which commences as early as 9.96 years in girls and 10.14 years in boys. Suppression of puberty continues until the age of 16 years when cross hormonal treatment commences. This article questions the assertion that suppression of puberty by GnRH analogues either in cases of precocious puberty or gender dysphoria is “safe and reversible” and argues that it warrants ongoing caution, despite the Family Court having broadly accepted that assertion.


O’Connor M, Madden B. In the Footsteps of Teiresias: Treatment for Gender Dysphoria in Children and the Role of the Courts. J Law Med. 2019 Oct;27(1):149-163.

Is it ever morally permissible to select for deafness in one’s child?

Jacqueline Mae Wallis

Is it ever morally permissible to select for deafness in one’s child?

Abstract: As reproductive genetic technologies advance, families have more options to choose what sort of child they want to have. Using preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), for example, allows parents to evaluate several existing embryos before selecting which to implant via in vitro fertilization (IVF). One of the traits PGD can identify is genetic deafness, and hearing embryos are now preferentially selected around the globe using this method. Importantly, some Deaf families desire a deaf child, and PGD–IVF is also an option for them. Selection for genetic deafness, however, encounters widespread disapproval in the hearing community, including mainstream philosophy and bioethics. In this paper I apply Elizabeth Barnes’ value-neutral model of disability as mere-difference to the case of selecting for deafness. I draw on evidence from Deaf Studies and Disability Studies to build an understanding of deafness, the Deaf community, and the circumstances relevant to reproductive choices that may obtain for some Deaf families. Selection for deafness, with deafness understood as mere-difference and valued for its cultural identity, need not necessitate impermissible moral harms. I thus advocate that it is sometimes morally permissible to select for deafness in one’s child.


Wallis, J.M. Is it ever morally permissible to select for deafness in one’s child?. Med Health Care and Philos 23, 3–15 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11019-019-09922-6