The Declaration of Geneva: Conscience, Dignity and Good Medical Practice

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

World Medical Journal

Since 1948 the Declaration of Geneva (the Declaration) has insisted that physicians must practise medicine “with conscience and dignity.” In 2017 this provision was modified by adding, “and in accordance with good medical practice” [1].

Good medical practice in Canada is said to include providing euthanasia and assisted suicide or arranging for someone else to do so. From this perspective, physicians who cannot in conscience kill their patients or collaborate in killing are not acting “in accordance with good medical practice,” and – some might say – the revised Declaration.

However, this merely literal application of the text cannot be correct, since the WMA later reaffirmed its support for physicians who refuse to provide or refer for euthanasia and assisted suicide even where they are considered good medical practice [2]. A reading informed by the history of the document is necessary and consistent with the care taken in its revision [1]. This yields a rational and coherent account of the relationship of conscience and dignity to medical practice.


Murphy S, Coelho R, Violette PD, Goligher EC, Lau T, Harding SR, Leiva R. The Declaration of Geneva: Conscience, Dignity and Good Medical Practice . WMJ [Internet]. 2020 Aug; 66(4): 43-47.

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.

Conscientious Objection in Health Care

Lester Liao, Ewan Goligher

NEJM

Stahl and Emanuel (April 6 issue)1 rightly differentiate between conscripts and physicians. Nonetheless, they state, “the profession . . . uses reflective equilibrium to self-correct. This dynamic process establishes professional obligations . . . regardless of . . . personal beliefs.”1 This point fails to recognize that conscientious objectors are engaging in the dynamic process from within the profession to counter problematic professional obligations and to correct mistakes. . . [Full text]

Liao L,Goligher E.  Conscientious Objection in Health Care, N Engl J Med 2017; 377:96-98 July 6, 2017 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMc1706233