WMA General Assembly


(22.10.2013) Delegates from more than 45 national medical associations attended the annual General Assembly of the WMA in Fortaleza, Brazil from 16 to 19 October. Among the issues discussed were:

DECLARATION OF HELSINKI

The Assembly adopted a revised Declaration of Helsinki (news release issued Oct 19).

SYRIAN HEALTHCARE

An emergency resolution was approved urging all parties in the Syrian conflict to ensure the safety of healthcare personnel and their patients, as well as medical facilities and medical transport. Delegates expressed their alarm about the attacks in Syria on health care institutions and the fact that health care personnel had fled the country. The meeting heard that more than a third of the country's hospitals had been destroyed and 15,000 physicians had fled the country. 

Dr. Margaret Mungherera, President of the WMA, said: ‘All parties in this conflict have legal and moral duties not to interfere with medical care for wounded or sick combatants and civilians, and not to attack, medical functions. Physicians and other health care personnel must act as neutral and be considered as neutral and must not be prevented from fulfilling their duties.' 

PROHIBITION OF CHEMICAL WEAPONS

A ban on the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons was called for and nations were urged to support the safe destruction of all stockpiled chemical weapons. The meeting supported United Nations initiatives to identify anyone who was responsible for the use of chemical weapons and to bring them to justice. And it issued a reminder that the use of chemical weapons constituted a crime against humanity, whether used against civilian or military people. Delegates also urged states using chemical agents in riot control to carefully consider and minimise the risks and, wherever possible, to refrain from their use. 

MORATORIUM ON USE OF DEATH PENALTY

The Assembly agreed to support the United Nations General Assembly Resolution calling for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty and said that it is unethical for physicians to take part in capital punishment. In a statement it made clear that the WMA Declaration of Geneva obliges physicians to maintain the utmost respect for human life, while at the same time acknowledging that the views prevalent in the countries of some of its members prevent all members unconditionally opposing the death penalty. 

CRIMINALISATION OF MEDICAL PRACTICE

Government attempts to control physicians' practice of medicine, including criminalizing medical decision making were condemned. Delegates protested that governments had tried to prevent medically indicated procedures, to mandate medical procedures that were not indicated and to mandate certain prescribing practices. In addition, criminal penalties had been imposed on physicians for various aspects of medical practice, including medical errors, despite the availability of adequate non-criminal redress. 

National medical associations were urged to oppose government intrusions into the practice of medicine. The resolution opposed criminalizing medical judgment, healthcare decisions, including physician variance from guidelines and standards, and medical care provided to patients injured in civil conflicts.

Dr. Mukesh Haikerwal, Chair of the WMA, said: ‘The WMA believes that doctors who commit criminal acts which are not part of patient care must remain as liable to sanctions as all other members of society. Serious abuses of medical practice must be subject to sanctions, usually through professional regulatory processes. 

‘But criminalizing medical decision making is a disservice to patients and will have detrimental effects on health care.'

SUPPORT FOR BRAZILIAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION

The Assembly called on the Brazilian government to work with the country's physicians on medical education, physician certification and the practice of medicine, and to respect the role of the Brazilian Medical Association. It adopted a resolution condemning any policy and practice that disrupted the accepted standards of medical credentialing and medical care. It urged the Brazilian government to respect the WMA's International Code of Medical Ethics.

The resolution was adopted against the background of the “Mais Médicos” programme in Brazil to create more medical schools, extend the duration of the medical course, compulsorily place last year' medical students to work in public services and attract foreign physicians to work in remote and poorer areas of the country.

New policy documents were adopted on:

PRESIDENT AND PRESIDENT ELECT

Dr. Margaret Mungherera, President of the Uganda Medical Association, was installed as President for 2013/14 (full text of inaugural speech) and Dr. Xavier Deau, President of the European and International Delegation of the French Medical Council, was elected unopposed as President elect.

NEW MEMBERS

Applications for membership from the national medical associations of Cameroun, Italy, Montenegro and Sudan, were accepted, bringing the total number of WMA NMAs to 106.