Expert Conference, Exceeding Expectations

Wilson_edited-1 (10.12.12) The World Medical Association (WMA) Expert Conference on the Declaration of Helsinki (DOH) concluded Friday, December 7, with wide ranging discussions addressing potential revisions of the DOH. The DOH is a statement of ethical principles for medical research involving human subjects, including research on identifiable material and data. It was first adopted by the WMA in 1964.

As I have related in previous blogs, the WMA has initiated a process for bringing the DOH up to date in anticipation of its fiftieth anniversary in 2014. The Expert Conference convened in Cape Town, South Africa brought together experts in ethics, members of the medical profession, educators and governmental officials to provide input during the three-day event.

In a previous blog I listed some of the subjects discussed at the conference. Additional topics included in the last day's sessions were whether the DOH should provide additional guidance in insurance/compensation/protection, use of unproven interventions, broad consent and medical research involving children.

It is important to observe that although the working group on the DOH is actively discussing suggestions made to date, additional input will come from the expert conference scheduled for Tokyo next year, followed by solicitation of comments from public.

In final remarks at the last session I shared my perspective formed by a career as a solo practice internist benefiting from the advances in medical science that come from research. That focus on clinical practice has not included significant exposure to research and I suspect that is the case for most physicians who are engaged in seeing patients on a regular basis. We are, if you will, the "end users" of the product - not research experts.

I advised the attendees that with that background and based on the credentials and reputations of the participants, I looked forward to being educated and impressed.

At the beginning of the conference I thought that was a high bar. As it turned out, the meeting exceeded even those expectations.

So kudos to those who by attending validated the worldwide importance of the DOH - validation that was enhanced by the quality of presentations.

Kudos and thanks also to the South African Medical Association for hosting the conference and for their outstanding hospitality.


WMA President Cecil. B. Wilson, MD travels around the world talking about the WMA's work representing the millions of physicians worldwide. Acting on behalf of patients and physicians, the WMA endeavors to achieve the highest possible standards of medical care, ethics, education and health related human rights for all people. This blog will chronicle these travels and important issues.