Handbook of Declarations

In July 1945 an informal conference of doctors from several countries was held in London to plan the setting up of an international medical organization to take the place of "L'Association Professionelle Internationale des Médecins" which, founded in 1926 and reaching a membership of 23 countries, had ceased to operate when World War II broke out. This new body was the World Medical Association.

On September 18th 1947, delegates representing 27 national medical associations met together at the First General Assembly of the World Medical Association in France, and agreed the Constitutions and Bylaws of a "confederation of the most representative national medical associations of each country". The following year the Executive Board (now known as Council) decided on New York City as the most favorable location for its secretariat headquarters, and in July 1964 the World Medical Association was incorporated under New York State Law as a non-profit making, educational and scientific organization, a status granted invaluable tax exemptions. Later, for reasons of economy and to facilitate liaison with other health organizations based in Switzerland, the headquarters were moved to Ferney-Voltaire in France, just over the border with Geneva, and it has been there since 1974, although still incorporated under New York State Law and enjoying the same advantages.

The World Medical Association is often confused with the World Health Organization. Both are concerned with international health problems, but WHO is a United Nations agency funded by governments, which by their very nature are political in outlook: hence WHO is inevitably subject to political influences. The World Medical Association by contrast is made up of and funded by voluntary national medical associations which in turn represent over eight million doctors worldwide who are sworn to put their patients' interest first, and to strive for the best possible health care for all, regardless of race, creed, political allegiance or social standing. The World Medical Association, itself apolitical, thus embraces a wide range of members with their own diversity of languages, cultures and systems of health care delivery, but all sharing the same ideals, and answerable to nobody save their patients.

People ask what the World Medical Association does. Its function has always been to constitute a free, open forum for the frank discussion, not of clinical problems, but of matters related to medical ethics, medical education, socio-medical affairs and medical topics generally. In this way an international consensus can be reached on the basis of which recommendations are offered that it is hoped may provide useful guidance to doctors when the right course of action is in doubt. Although its voice is authoritative, being the considered opinion of many medical experts from every region of the world, the World Medical Association has (and indeed seeks to have) no actual powers, yet the Declarations and Statements it has made over the years have carried great weight in national and international debates.