World Medical Association Council Meeting

The World Medical Association Council held its 156th Council meeting in Divonne les Bains, France from May 4-7. Among the issues discussed were the following:

Helsinki Declaration

The Council approved a revised working document for further discussion and comments with a view to a final revised version of the Declaration being considered for adoption at the WMA'S annual General Assembly in Edinburgh in October (3rd-7th). The revised working document will be posted on the WMA's website within the next few weeks, along with an accompanying report outlining remaining concerns. Comments will be invited from relevant groups and individuals, including national medical associations, patient groups, experts within the research community and ethicists.

The Human Genome

The Council reaffirmed its opposition to the patenting of the human genome and urged its representatives to lobby their national governments to prevent this from happening. Council members expressed the view that human genes must be seen as mankind's common heritage which should be open to all researchers and scientists for the benefit of mankind worldwide.

Dr Anders Milton, chairman of the WMA, said: "There is a growing alarm among physicians about the patenting of the human genome because of the potential limitation on the availability of new treatments for patients and on the restrictions this might place on the transfer of knowledge. The WMA is calling on its national medical association members to approach their governments as a matter of urgency to prevent this from happening".

Female Foeticide

The Council acknowledged as unethical and totally unacceptable the practice, used in India, of sex determination techniques that can eventually lead to female foeticide and female infanticide. The Council decided that the WMA should work with the Indian medical association to help develop WMA policy on this unethical type of practice.

Prison Conditions

The meeting considered proposed new guidelines on prison conditions, tabled as a result of concern about the growing incidence of tuberculosis among prisoners, especially in the Russian Federation and the newly independent states of the former USSR. A revised draft Statement will be presented to the annual General Assembly for adoption.

Organ Transplants

A draft Statement on Human Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation was debated. The proposed statement represents a review of issues and principles concerning transplantation to provide guidance to medical associations, physicians and other health care providers. Work will continue on the document with a view to presenting an amended Statement to the WMA's annual General Assembly in October.