The WMA’s code of ethics has opposed euthanasia since the organization was founded in the wake of the Holocaust in 1947. The CMA contends the code of ethics should be updated to respect the positions of doctors in countries where the practice is now legal. Pixabay

Euthanasia snub led to Canadian withdrawal from the World Medical Association, doctor says

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  • October 18, 2018

Canada’s sudden withdrawal from the World Medical Association is likely due to a Canadian delegation feeling wounded and angry after their proposal to alter the world body’s code of ethics on euthanasia was resoundingly rejected, according to a Canadian doctor.

Representatives from the Canadian Medical Association dramatically walked out of the World Medical Association congress in Reykjavik, Iceland, Oct. 6 and quit the global body altogether. The walkout occurred after the Canadian delegation objected to a speech by incoming WMA president Dr. Leonid Edelman that contained substantial portions copied word-for-word from a 2014 address given by former CMA president Chris Simpson.

Earlier, the CMA withdrew a motion calling on the WMA to drop its condemnation of all forms of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide when it became clear the motion had virtually no support beyond the Canadian and Dutch delegations. 

The WMA’s code of ethics has opposed euthanasia since the organization was founded in the wake of the Holocaust in 1947. The CMA contends the code of ethics should be updated to respect the positions of doctors in countries where the practice is now legal.

Explaining its withdrawal from the WMA, the CMA said it was “taking a stand against a serious ethical breach” by Edelman. They demanded Edelman’s resignation. Instead, he apologized and a Canadian motion demanding his removal was voted down.

But a Canadian doctor who has followed the situation closely told The Catholic Register Edelman’s plagiarism was a convenient excuse for the CMA to quit the world body. A more likely explanation is that Canadian delegates were upset when they failed to persuade the world body to amend its code of ethics on euthanasia.

To walk out over plagiarism seemed disproportionate, said the doctor, who asked to remain anonymous to preserve a working relationship with the CMA.

“To me, it was (as if the Canadian delegation was saying) ‘Killing is OK, as long as you mean well. Copying small parts of speeches is evil, and we won’t stand for it,’ ” he said. 

“I believe they enjoyed calling the WMA unethical.”

Over the last year the CMA, with support from the Royal Dutch Medical Association, has campaigned for the WMA to go neutral on euthanasia and assisted suicide. The idea was to amend the ethics code to accommodate doctors who legally participate in medically-induced dying.

“Doctors in Canada have bristled against the idea of being called murderers by the world’s doctors,” said the Canadian. 

The WMA’s vice president has also questioned the CMA’s motives. 

“Maybe being defeated, not only in proposals but also in internal elections, is the real reason for this histrionic move?” Brazilian Dr. José Bonamigo wrote in an Oct. 6 tweet.

The CMA did not respond to requests by The Register for comment.

The Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reports there has been significant friction between the Israel Medical Association, of which Edelman has been chair, and the CMA on the issue of euthanasia. Among national medical associations, the IMA is counted as one of the most vehemently opposed to legalized euthanasia.

CMA vice president for professionalism Dr. Jeff Blackmer highlighted the conflict between himself and Edelman in an Oct. 6 tweet. He claimed that Edelman once said Canadian doctors believe assisted dying “is trivial and no more serious than prescribing antibiotics. When I challenged him, he openly mocked me,” Blackmer wrote on his Twitter account.

The breakaway doctors’ group Concerned Ontario Doctors is decrying the CMA decision to quit the WMA.

“The CMA’s abrupt departure leaves 37 million Canadians and 85,000 Canadian MDs without any international oversight of the CMA’s medical ethics,” Concerned Ontario Doctors president Dr. Kulvinder Gill said in a release. “It is deeply troubling that by removing itself from the WMA the CMA now plans to replace the WMA’s International Code of Medical Ethics, adhered to by 10 million physicians globally, with the CMA’s new, draconian, unethical version to ensure Canadian physicians adopt its political ideology under the guise of ethics, while stripping doctors in Canada of their freedom of conscience.”

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