Canadian and Dutch Medical Associations pressure World Medical Association to change its policy opposing euthanasia

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director – Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

The Journal of the World Medical Association (WMJ) in its August 2018 edition, reported that the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and the Royal Dutch Medical Association (KNMG) are pressuring the World Medical Association to change its position in opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide.

The CMA and KNMG are lobbying the WMA to accept doctors killing patients by lethal injection.

On pages 8-9 the WMJ stated

Dr. [Otmar] Kloiber [WMA Secretary General ]explained that this issue would be brought back into an international discussion to be started in Reykjavik at the medical ethics conference before the General Assembly in October.

A brief debate took place about how to reconcile current WMA policy that euthanasia was unethical with the fact that in some countries euthanasia was now legal. The committee was told that there would be ample time to discuss this matter further at the medical ethics conference in Reykjavik.

The Canadian Medical Association gave notice that together with the Royal Dutch Medical Association it would be bringing a draft revised paper for consideration in October, to see if they could accommodate all the divergent views among members.

The current WMA Declaration on Euthanasia declares:

‘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’.

The current WMA Statement on Physician Assisted Suicide declares:

‘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’.

On page 15 the WMJ report includes quotes from a written report submitted by the Brazilian Medical Association [BMA] concerning the Symposium the BMA hosted in Rio de Janeiro in March 2017. The report noted

… the pressure that some patients might face if euthanasia was allowed and the fact that the request for euthanasia might be reduced by improved training of professionals in palliative care. It said societies should be aware of the ‘slippery slope’ risks of legislation allowing euthanasia.

and concluded:

‘The sick at the end of life need a helping hand not to precipitate their death, nor to prolong their agony with the therapeutic obstinacy, but to be with them and relieve their suffering with palliative care while their death arrives’.

Also on page 15, the WMJ reported on the September 2017 Japan Symposium and concluded

Based on the survey and the group discussions, all of the NMAs opposed euthanasia and physician assisted suicide. With the exception of Australia and New Zealand, there was no significant desire in the civil society of the Asia/Oceania region to discuss the concept of euthanasia and PAS.

On page 16, the WMJ reported on the November 2017 Rome Symposium

Throughout the meeting, proponents of right-to-die policies emphasised that their intention was to protect physicians in their own countries who are acting within the law, not to change or influence policies in other countries. They based their arguments on the concepts of patient self-determination, dignity and compassion. Those who were opposed to euthanasia and PAS, representing the majority of attendees, rejected these procedures as being diametrically opposed to the ethical principles of medicine and expressed concern that they could lead to misuse or abuse, e.g. in the case of mentally or psychologically incapacitated people. They also expressed concern that these procedures could cause damage to the complete trust which characterises the patient-physician relationship or lead to social pressure for the elderly or those with chronic illness to end their lives.

The majority of attendees ultimately advocated for the retention of the existing policies of the WMA on euthanasia and PAS.

Finally, on page 16, the WMJ report on the February 2018 Nigerian Symposium stated:

Among the resolutions at the conclusion of the meeting were that NMAs in Africa are unanimously opposed to euthanasia and physician assisted suicide in any form. They supported policies and legislations permitting and strengthening palliative care.

Editor’s note. This appeared on Mr. Schadenberg’s blog and is reposted with permission.