WMA defends Physicians’ Self-Governance against Government Attacks

(17.01.2012) Concern over the way governments around the world are seeking to interfere with physicians' self governing bodies has been expressed by the World Medical Association.
Among the attempts it cites are moves by the Slovakian Government to disempower the country's physician trade union and a new Polish law holding physicians financially liable for the administrative deficits of the Polish Health Care administration. Now the WMA has raised strong objections to what it sees as the most serious example, the Turkish Government's attempt to dismantle basic functions and roles of the Turkish Medical Association.
In a letter to its member national medical associations entitled ‘Attacks on Physician Self-Governance in Turkey', the WMA's Secretary General Dr. Otmar Kloiber said the Turkish Medical Association had sought the help of the WMA in resisting the Turkish Government's takeover of its functions.
In a letter to the WMA, the Turkish Medical Association said that under a Turkish Government decree adopted in November the medical association had been stripped of many of its functions, in particular the provision to ensure that the medical profession was practiced and promoted in line with public and individual wellbeing and benefit.
The decree also created a new Health Professions Board, to which the Ministry of Health was empowered to appoint the overwhelming majority of members. This Board had been given many of the powers that used to be exercised by the medical association, including giving opinion on the curricula of education and training in health, employment and ethical issues, investigating alleged ethical violations by physicians and applying disciplinary sanctions.
In addition, the Polish Ministry of Health now had the authority to interfere in the academic autonomy and scientific freedom in higher education and on issues of accreditation.
The Turkish Medical Association's letter added: 'The act of unconstitutionally issuing a decree in force of law in disregard of the authority of the legislative body gives rise to concerns about the totalitarian tendency of the ruling Government not compatible with any understanding of democracy.
'Amendments in constituting laws of the Turkish Medical Association and other professional organisations as well as new arrangements regarding higher education institutions in the field of health and medicine aim at intimidating and eliminating the pressure group functions of professional organisations and academics who are not in line with existing Government policies'.
Dr. Mukesh Haikerwal, Chair of the WMA, said: ‘Governments that seek to undermine the freedom of physicians' self-governing bodies risk eroding patients' access to care based on clinical need. And by imposing more state control they limit independent clinical decision making and introduce less self determination driven by patient need.'
Dr. Kloiber said the WMA was now discussing with the Turkish Medical Association how best to support it in its fight to maintain its independence and role in regulating the profession.