Major end of life conferences organised by World Medical Association

Two more major conferences on end of life issues have been announced by the World Medical Association as part of a review of its policy on euthanasia and physician assisted dying.

Following a Latin American regional conference held in Rio de Janeiro in March, further regional debates are to be held in Tokyo and the Vatican City. The Tokyo conference in September (13th-15th) and the Vatican conference in November (16th-17th) will feature speakers from across the two regions discussing the ethical dilemmas relating to end of life issues. The WMA hopes that a similar conference will be arranged in Africa.

The Tokyo event, hosted by the Japan Medical Association, will be part of the General Assembly of the Confederation of Medical Associations in Asia and Oceania. The theme of the debate will be terminal illness in aging.

The conference at the Vatican is being held jointly by the WMA, the German Medical Association and the Pontificia Academia pro Vita. Dr. Frank Ulrich Montgomery, vice chair of the WMA, said the two-day event would include speakers from countries that support legislation on euthanasia and others that oppose physician participation in such practices. They will include leading medical professionals, legal authorities, experts in palliative care and medical ethics, theological scholars and philosophers They will debate the different policies on these issues, explore patient rights and treatment limitations, and consider public opinion regarding end-of-life questions.

Dr. Ardis Hoven, Chair of the WMA Council, said: ‘The purpose of these events is to assist the WMA in considering whether to revise its policy on euthanasia and physician assisted suicide or leave it as it is. Over the years, the WMA has adopted a number of Declarations and Statements on these issues. Current policy is that euthanasia and physician assisted suicide are unethical and we say they must be condemned by the medical profession. We strongly encourage physicians to refrain from participating in euthanasia, even if national law allows it or decriminalises it under certain conditions.

‘But physician assisted suicide and euthanasia under certain conditions occur in a number of countries and some of our NMAs are anxious to see a change in WMA policy’.

Following the regional conferences, the WMA will consider the outcomes and prepare a position paper to be considered by its Council.