Physicians Code of Ethics Updated

A proposed revision of the international code governing the duties of physicians has been published today by the World Medical Association.

The draft document, the International Code of Medical Ethics, has been posted on the WMA’s website for a month-long public consultation. It sets out a modernized version of the code, outlining physicians’ duties towards their patients, other physicians, health professionals and society as a whole.

The code was first adopted in 1949 and has been amended three times, most recently in 2006. Now, in a major revision, new clauses have been added dealing with physicians’ potential conflicts of interest, advertising, telemedicine and duties towards the environment.

And for the first time it includes the issue of health inequality, declaring that ‘Physicians must support fair and equitable provision of health care. This includes addressing inequities in health and care, the determinants of those inequities, as well as violations of the rights of patients and health care professionals.’

The proposed draft also refers to a physician’s obligation to ensure continuity of care in cases of conscientious objection, possibly through referral to another qualified physician. However, this provision is to be debated in more detail at a special WMA meeting later this year or next year.

German physician Dr. Ramin Parsa-Parsi is heading the international workgroup which has already spent several years working on the revised version.

WMA President Dr. David Barbe said: ‘We have modernized the language, made it more gender neutral and more comprehensive. Our aim has been to produce a draft that is more compatible with new or recently revised WMA policy, such as the Declaration of Geneva: The Physician’s Pledge.

‘We are now inviting the public, all experts and stakeholders to submit comments on this draft version via email to the WMA secretariat at no later than 28 May this year. The workgroup will then consider all the suggestions before producing a new draft code.’

Publication of this draft comes as a new Memorandum of Understanding has been signed between the World Medical Association and the International Chair in Bioethics. The two organisations have agreed to co-operate to achieve consensus on high standards of bioethics, medical ethics and health law education. The ICB is an independent organization based on an international network with currently more than 240 units on five continents.