Physicians Under Threat, Warns WMA President

The threat posed to physicians in many countries around the world has been spelled out by Dr Kati Myllymaki, president of the World Medical Association.

In a speech to the Turkish Medical Association in Ankara, Dr Myllymaki declared that in many countries physicians still risked their lives when treating their patients.

"In our world hospitals are bombarded, ambulances hijacked and nurses and doctors kidnapped and killed. Physicians are pressured, threatened and tortured. Geneva convention is forgotten and human rights insulted."

Dr Myllymaki said that physicians' basic duty was to help patients without discrimination and not to make any difference between enemies and friends. Patients should be treated according to medical ethics.

Recently the World Medical Association passed a resolution supporting physicians in Belgium, where legislation allowed euthanasia and where some lawyers were publicly demanding that physicians should submit medical ethics to national legislation.

In Finland the Finnish Medical Association had again started to use the traditional Physician's Oath*.

Dr Myllymaki went on: 'To break one's oath is a serious thing. In concentration camps in Nazi-Germany unethical research was made. Health and lives of prisoners were sacrificed for scientific interest and physicians were involved.

"At Nuremberg in 1947, accused physicians tried to defend themselves with the excuse that they were only following the law and commands from their superiors. This defence was condemned to be vague and the court announced that a physician could not deviate from his ethical obligations even if legislation demands otherwise."

Dr Myllymaki added: 'Torture, the death penalty, the organ trade? physicians are still pressured in many countries. International and global support from other colleagues is very important in human rights problems. It is the human rights of both doctors and patients that are being violated in many countries.'

*Physician's Oath in Finland

"I swear, on my honour and conscience, that as a physician I shall strive to serve my fellow man and to respect humanity. My goals shall be to maintain and promote health, to prevent disease and to heal the ill and ease their pain.

In my work I shall comply with medical ethics and only make use of treatments which have been proven useful by medical research or experience. When recommending a test or a treatment, I shall take the benefit and the possible harm to the patient equally into account.

I shall continuously maintain a high level of professional competence and assess the quality of my work.

I shall respect my colleagues and provide them with the help they request when treating patients. Where necessary, I shall encourage my patient to seek a second opinion.

I shall respect the will of my patient. I shall keep secret all confidential information that I have been trusted with when treating my patients. I shall fulfil my duty as a physician to everyone without discrimination. I shall not, even under threat, use my skills against my professional ethics."