World Medical Association European region meeting on end-of life questions

On Thursday and Friday, 16-17 November 2017, medical professionals, legal authorities, experts in palliative care and medical ethics, theological scholars and philosophers from over 30 countries gathered in the Aula Vecchia del Sinodo in the Vatican for the World Medical Association European Region Meeting on End-of-Life Questions.

Hosted by the World Medical Association (WMA), the German Medical Association (GMA) and the Pontifical Academy for Life (PAV), this two-day event provided a platform for debating the different policies and perspectives on end-of-life issues in Europe, for exploring patient rights, treatment limitations, and palliative care, and for better understanding public opinion on these complex topics.

On the first day, the Congress was introduced by a meaningful and rich message from His Holiness Pope Francis, read by Cardinal Turkson, Prefect of the Dicastery for promoting integral human development. In his words, Pope Francis developed a deep reflection about the frailty of life and the need to support it with good practices.

Opening remarks were also delivered by WMA President Dr. Yoshitake Yokokura, GMA President Prof. Dr. Frank Ulrich Montgomery and PAV President Archbishop Msgr. Vincenzo Paglia. The program continued with a look at three different perspectives on end-of-life questions by Professor Montgomery, Dr. René Héman, Chairman of the Royal Dutch Medical Association, and Dr. Yvonne Gilli, Board Member of the Swiss Medical Association.

The subsequent session highlighted insights on end-of-life questions from different religious and theological backgrounds.

Rounding out the first day of programming was a session focused on examining legal aspects of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, which included a contribution from Prof. Dr. Volker Lipp, Professor of Civil Law, Civil Procedure, Medical Law and Comparative Law at Georg-August-Universität. This was followed by an overview of the Council of Europe’s Guide on the decision-making process regarding medical treatment in end-of-life situations as illustrated by Dr. Laurence Lwoff, Head of the Bioethics Unit of the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Directorate, and a series of presentations, including a talk by Prof. Dr. Leonid Eidelman, President of the Israeli Medical Association, exploring various aspects of compassionate use and conscientious objection.

Day two of the conference opened with an ethical debate surrounding the question of whether there is a right to determine one’s own death, after which Dr. Anne de la Tour, President of the French Society of Palliative Care, shared her expertise on treatment limitations and end-stage decisions about sedation.

Representing the patient’s perspective was Dr. Marco Greco, President of the European Patients’ Forum, who delivered a presentation on public opinions of key end-of-life issues.

The final day closed with a plenary panel discussion featuring six speakers from Switzerland, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, representing an extensive range of opinions and policy viewpoints.

The in-depth discussions held over the course of the two-day conference were intended to contribute to an overarching debate on end-of-life issues recently initiated by the WMA’s Medical Ethics Committee. To capture the global scale of this debate, the WMA set out to co-organize a series of regional meetings on nearly every continent. Previous meetings have been held in Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro. The WMA African Region Meeting on this subject will take place in early 2018 in Nigeria.