The Law And Medical Ethics

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Doctors' concern that medical ethics are becoming more and more subservient to the law has prompted the World Medical Association to issue a strong reaffirmation declaring that physicians' ethical obligations typically exceed legal duties.

A resolution, passed by the WMA Council at its meeting in Divonne-les-Bains, France, states: 'In some cases the law mandates unethical conduct. The fact that a physician has complied with the law does not necessarily mean that the physician acted ethically.

"When law is in conflict with medical ethics, physicians should work to change the law. In circumstances of such conflict, ethical responsibilities supersede legal obligations".

Dr Yoram Blachar, chairman of the WMA Council, added:

"For instance, in Belgium, there is now a law that permits euthanasia, and there are moves to change the ethical rules to fit in with that law. Similar pressures are occurring in other countries and this is totally unacceptable to the medical profession and contrary to the best interests of society".

"In issuing this statement, the WMA is expressing the strongest possible support for Belgian doctors who wish to follow the highest ethical standards and who refuse to co-operate with the new law".

"The WMA further recognises that physicians must have the right to conscientiously object to participating in legal practices which are contrary to the ethical codes of the profession".