Public consultation on a draft revised version of the Declaration of Geneva

The draft of a revised version of the Declaration of Geneva is now open for public consultation and may be downloaded here.

The revision process so far

The Declaration of Geneva was adopted by the World Medical Association (WMA) at its second General Assembly in 1948 and represented a modern affirmation of physicians’ commitment to the humanitarian principles of medicine. Conceived of as a modern Hippocratic Oath, it is considered one of the core documents of medical ethics and is intended to be sworn by physicians upon admission to the medical profession.

Since its adoption, the Declaration of Geneva has been amended three times (1968, 1983 and 1994) and revised twice (2005 and 2006). In 2016, the Declaration of Geneva was once again scheduled for revision. A workgroup was established by the WMA and given the mandate to assess the need for a revision and to develop a draft revised version of the Declaration to be presented to the WMA Ethics Committee. In addition, feedback was requested from other WMA constituent members in the form of a survey focused on the use of physicians’ oaths.

The revised draft presented here is the result of the workgroup’s careful analysis of feedback received in the aforementioned survey, as well as several workgroup meetings and discussions with WMA ethics advisors. In April 2017, the Council of the WMA approved this draft version for public consultation.

The general approach

The workgroup was guided during the revision process by consensus on the following issues:

  • The workgroup agreed that the unique character of the Declaration of Geneva should be maintained and that the revision process should be handled with great care, restraint and respect for the significance of this document.
  • The workgroup agreed that the revised version should retain the same format and general length and that changes should only be considered if there were significant arguments in favour of them.

Main issues raised during the revision process

The workgroup has carefully considered this document in light of modern developments in medicine and medical ethics and determined several shortcomings in the current version of the Declaration of Geneva:

  • The extent to which the Declaration of Geneva is disseminated and used as an oath by physicians entering the medical profession varies greatly from country to country. In contrast to its limited use as an oath text, the Declaration of Geneva is frequently incorporated into medical professional codes of conducts or used as a point of reference for such codes.
  • The Declaration of Geneva deviates from the Hippocratic Oath in that the latter calls for mutual respect between students and teachers of medicine, while the former states only that students must respect their teachers.
  • The Declaration of Geneva does not include a reference to the respect for patient self-determination, which has been established as one of the most important principles of medical ethics and which is mentioned explicitly in other WMA documents.
  • In addition to the above mentioned principle of reciprocal respect between teachers and students, the workgroup agreed that there could be a stronger emphasis on the obligation to teach and forward knowledge to the next generation of physicians.
  • Workgroup members and other WMA member NMAs suggested that the Declaration of Geneva could be strengthened by the addition of a statement drawing attention to the obligation physicians have to foster their own health and ability to provide care of the highest standard (i.e. physician well-being).

Proposed changes

In response to the perceived shortcomings of the current version of the Declaration of Geneva, the workgroup proposed minor changes to existing content, along with the addition of several new provisions:

  • The addition of a subtitle, “The Physicians’ Oath”, to improve discoverability (particularly online) of the Declaration of Geneva.
  • The addition of a reference to reciprocal respect between teachers and students of medicine and the inclusion of a reference to respect for colleagues in order to replace the line “MY COLLEAGUES will be my sisters and brothers”, which has been removed by the workgroup in the current draft as the tone was considered outdated.
  • The relocation of the clause “I WILL MAINTAIN by all means in my power, the honour and noble traditions of the medical profession” from line 7 to line 4 to improve the flow of the document.
  • The amendment of the following clause to more sufficiently reflect the principle of professional autonomy: “I WILL PRACTISE my profession with conscience and dignity and in accordance with good medical practice”.
  • The addition of the following amendment to improve consistency with other relevant literature: “THE HEALTH AND WELL-BEING OF MY PATIENT will be my first consideration”.
  • The addition of a clause highlighting the importance of respecting patient autonomy.
  • The addition of a clause reflecting the obligation of the physician to share medical knowledge for the benefit of the patient and the advancement of healthcare
  • The addition of a clause expressing the need for physicians to foster their own health and ability to provide care of the highest standard (i.e. physician well-being).

How to participate in the public consultation

The WMA kindly invites all experts and stakeholders to submit comments on this draft version via email to the WMA secretariat at no later than 29 May 2017. The workgroup will thoroughly review all comments and consider all input; however, please note that it may not be possible to take all the suggestions received into account in the new draft declaration.

The new draft revised version of the Declaration of Geneva, including a side-by-side comparison with the existing version of the Declaration of Geneva, may be downloaded here.

Due to time considerations, we regret that it will not be possible to provide documentation or consider comments submitted in languages other than English. The final version of the document will be translated into Spanish and French by the WMA.

All submissions will be kept on file and may be made available to members of the public upon request to the WMA following completion of the revision process.