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.

L’euthanasie au Canada: une mise en garde

Rene Leiva, Margaret M. Cottle, Catherine Ferrier, Sheila Rutledge Harding, Timothy Lau, Terence McQuiston, John F. Scott*

L'euthanasie au Canada: une mise en garde

Nous sommes des médecins canadiens consternés et concernés par les impacts – sur les patients, sur les médecins, sur la pratique médicale – de l’implantation universelle de l’euthanasie dans notre pays, définie comme un « soin de santé » auquel tous les citoyens ont droit (conditionnellement à des critères ambigus et arbitraires). Beaucoup d’entre nous sont si touchés par la difficulté de pratiquer sous ces nouvelles contraintes prescrites que nous pourrions être forcés, pour des raisons d’intégrité et de conscience professionnelle, d’émigrer ou de se retirer complètement de notre pratique. Nous sommes tous profondément inquiets du futur de la médecine au Canada. Nous croyons que ce changement sera non seulement nuisible à la sécurité des patients, mais également à la perception essentielle par le public – et par les médecins eux-mêmes – que nous sommes réellement une profession dédiée seulement à la guérison et au mieux-être. Nous sommes donc très inquiets des tentatives visant à convaincre l’Association Médicale Mondiale (AMM) de modifier sa position qui s’oppose à la participation des médecins à l’euthanasie et au suicide assist . . . . Continuer la lecture dans le World Medical Journal en anglais | Français

Euthanasia in Canada: a Cautionary Tale

Rene Leiva, Margaret M. Cottle, Catherine Ferrier, Sheila Rutledge Harding, Timothy Lau, Terence McQuiston, John F. Scott*

World Medical Journal

We are Canadian physicians who are dismayed and concerned by the impact  – on patients, on doctors, on medical practice – of the universal implementation, in our country, of euthanasia defined as medical “care” to which all citizens are entitled (subject to the satisfaction of ambiguous and arbitrary qualifying criteria). Many of us feel so strongly about the difficulty of practicing under newly prescribed constraints that we may be forced, for reasons of personal integrity and professional conscience, to emigrate or to withdraw from practice altogether. All of us are deeply worried about the future of medicine in Canada. We believe this transformation will not only be detrimental to patient safety, but also damaging to that all-important perception by the public  – and by physicians themselves – that we are truly a profession dedicated to healing alone. Thus, we are alarmed by attempts to convince the World Medical Association (WMA) to change its policies against physician participation in euthanasia and assisted suicide. . .


Leiva R, Cottle MM, Ferrier C, Harding SR, Lau T, Scott JF. Euthanasia in Canada: A Cautionary Tale. WMJ 2018 Sep [cited 2020 Jan 14]; 64:3 17-23.