The World Medical Association (WMA), with ambiguous wording in its newly published Code of Medical Ethics, is allowing for a future restriction of physicians’ freedom of conscience with regard to abortion and euthanasia.
The WMA is an international federation of national medical associations. It was founded in 1947 and represents 112 professional associations; the US member is the American Medical Association. Part of its work is the publication of ethical guidelines on medical topics to ensure an internationally high ethical standard in medicine.
When a new issue of its International Code of Medical Ethics was published on October 8, the issue of medical freedom of conscience in particular was the subject of controversy.
Canadian doctors had called on the federal government to restrict freedom of conscience for physicians: for example, doctors would have to refer people who want to be legally killed by a doctor to physicians willing to perform such acts–even if they personally find euthanasia reprehensible.
The right to freedom of conscience has thus far protected physicians and medical personnel from performing or otherwise participating in treatments and practices that violate their own conscience for religious or their own moral reasons.
Then, more than 250 physicians wrote to the WMA saying that freedom of conscience should be preserved. The Code states in item 29 that a physician may refuse to perform a lawful medical procedure if doing so will not harm or discriminate against the patient and will not endanger the patient’s health.
Yet it is precisely with the ciphers “abortion bans discriminate against women” and “abortions are health services” that attempts have been made for decades to reinterpret the denial of abortion as discrimination and withholding of necessary medical treatment. Thus, there is no denying that the wording used in item 29 could be used to restrict freedom of conscience should public opinion continue to turn in favor of abortion advocates.
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