The Story of the WMA
Background and Preliminary Organisation
During World War II, the British Medical Association (BMA) House had been the focal spot at which doctors of all the allied nations congregated from time to time to discuss problems of medical practice and peacetime and to compare the conditions of medical service and medical education in their respective countries. In July 1945, an informal conference of doctors from several countries convened in London to initiate plans for an international medical organisation to replace the “Association Professionnelle Internationale des Médecins” (APIM), which was founded in 1926 and later reached a maximum membership of 23 countries and had suspended operations with the advent of World War II. Accordingly, a second conference was held in London in September 1946. Medical associations from 31 countries were invited and 29 of them sent representatives. An Organizing Committee was appointed and directed to draft a Constitution and plan for the First General Assembly. This Conference decided that the name of the new organisation should be “The World Medical Association” and that it should have broader activities and wider membership than the former Association Professionnelle Internationale des Médecins. APIM officers attending the Conference agreed to dissolve the APIM in favour of the WMA, and generously turned over its remaining funds to the WMA.
The members of the Organizing Committee were:
- Dr F. de Court, France
- Dr Pierre Glorieux, Belgium
- Dr Dag Knutson, Sweden
- Dr John A. Pridham, Great Britain
- Dr T. Clarence Routley, Canada (Chairperson)
- I. Shawki Bey, Egypt
- Dr Lorenzo Garcia Tornel, Spain
- Dr A. Zahor, Czechoslovakia
- Louis H. Bauer, USA
- Elmer Henderson, USA
- Treasurer 1946-1947:
Dr Otto Leuch, Switzerland
- Joint Secretaries 1946-1947:
Charles Hill (Great Britain) and Dr. Paul Cibrie (France)
The second meeting of the Organizing Committee was held in Paris in November 1946. Further progress was made on the Constitution and Bylaws and it was decided to invite the American Medical Association to nominate one of its members to serve on the Organizing Committee. Dr Louis H. Bauer the first Secretary General of the WMA was nominated by the American Medical Association (AMA) to serve on the Committee, and Dr Elmer L. Anderson to serve as alternate.
The final draft of the Constitution and Bylaws was approved at the third meeting of the Organizing Committee held in London in April 1947, and plans were made to hold the First General Assembly in Paris in September 1947. The draft set dues at 20 Swiss centimes per member of the national medical association with a minimum subscription of 1,000 SFrs, and a maximum of 10,000.
The fourth and final meeting of the Organizing Committee was held in Paris 1946, the day before the convening of the General Assembly (September 17-18, 1947). The proposed Constitution and Bylaws was adopted on the first Assembly day with minor amendments. The meeting became the First General Assembly of the WMA, and 27 national medical associations represented became the founder member associations.
These associations were:
- Federal Council of the BMA in Australia
- Osterreichische Arztekammer (Austria)
- Fédération Médicale Belge
- Canadian Medical Association
- Chinese Medical Association (dropped in 1952)
- Ustredni Jednota Ceskych Lekaru (ceased to exist in 1948)
- Den Almindelige Danske Laegeforening (Denmark)
- Medical Association of Eire (changed to Irish Medical Association)
- La Confédération des Syndicats Médicaux Français
- British Medical Association
- Association Médicale Panhellenique (Greece)
- Laeknafelga Islands (Iceland)
- Indian Medical Association
- Palestine Jewish Medical Association (later changed to Israel Medical Association in 1949)
- Federazione Nazionale degli Ordini dei Medici d’Italia
- Syndicats des Médecins du Grand Duché de Luxembourg
- Koninklijke Nederlandsche Maatschappij tot Bevordering der Geneeskunst (Netherlands)
- Den Norske Laegeforening (Norway)
- Palestine Arab Medical Association (ceased to exist in 1949)
- Naczelna Izby Lekarska (dropped in 1949)
- Medical Association of South Africa
- Colegio Oficial de Médicos de Espana
- Sveriges Lakarforbund (Sweden)
- Fédération des Médecins Suisses
- Turkish Medical Chamber (later replaced by the Union of Turkish Physicians)
- American Medical Association
Prof. Dr Eugène Marquis, France, was elected as the first President of WMA, Dr Jar. Stucklik, Czechoslovakia, was elected President-Elect, Dr Otto Leuch, Switzerland, was elected Treasurer, and Dr Charles Hill, UK, was elected as temporary Honorary Secretary. The first Council, composed of 10 members, was elected, and the World Medical Association was fully launched.
The Constitution, as adopted, provided, among other things, for membership of national medical associations fully representative of the medical profession in their countries or territories, but only one member association from each country. The General Assembly was vested with the general control of the policies and the affairs of the association, and was to meet annually in a different country. The executive body, the Council, was directed to administer the affairs of the association and report annually to the Assembly. The Council to consist of three elected officers, and ten members elected by the Assembly.
English, French and Spanish were declared the official languages of the association, and a bulletin or journal was to be published and known as the official organ of the WMA.
In order to facilitate financial support from its member associations during a period when monetary exchange was restricted by many national governments, Switzerland and the USA were considered the most advantageous locations for the Secretariat of the Headquarters of the new association. In 1948, the executive board, known as the Council, established the Secretariat of the WMA in New York City to provide a close liaison with the United Nations and its various agencies. Dr Louis H. Bauer was appointed as Secretary General. The WMA Secretariat remained in New York City until 1974 when for financial reasons and in order to operate within the vicinity of Geneva-based international organisations (WHO, ILO, ICN, ISSA, etc.) it was transferred to its present location in Ferney-Voltaire, France.
In July 1964, the WMA was incorporated as a non-profit educational and scientific organisation under the laws of the State of New York, USA. This Incorporation established the legal and financial status of the WMA in the USA, with elected members of Council to serve as the Association’s Board of Directors. It also made possible to obtain a tax-free status recognition on funds donated to the WMA and for donors of financial contributions. WMA’s Incorporation was adopted at the XIXth World Medical Assembly held in London, UK, 1965.
The annual meeting of delegates was changed in 1962 to “World Medical Assembly” following revision of the Constitution and Bylaws at the XVIth General Assembly.
WMA Headquarters from foundation to 1974: NEW YORK CITY, USA
From 1975 to present: FERNEY-VOLTAIRE, FRANCE
The WMA as the Platform for Developing a Global Consensus on Medical Ethics
During the post World War II period and immediately after its foundation, the WMA showed concern over the state of medical ethics in general and all around the world. The WMA took on the responsibility for establishing ethical guidelines for the world physicians. It noted that in those years the custom of medical schools to administer an oath to its doctors upon graduation or receiving a license to practice medicine had fallen into disuse or become a mere formality. The WMA was of the opinion that the establishment of a suitable oath or pledge to be administered as a part of the graduation or licensing ceremony would help to impress on newly qualified doctors the fundamental ethics of medicine and would assist in raising the standard of professional conduct.
These facts moved the WMA to appoint a study committee to prepare a “Charter of Medicine” which could be adopted as an oath or promise that every doctor in the world would make upon receiving his medical degree or diploma. To this effect, member associations were requested to submit the text of the oath or promise made by the doctors of their countries at the time the medical degree or diploma was issued. It took two years of intensive study of the oaths and promises submitted by member associations to draft a modernized wording of the ancient oath of Hippocrates which was sent for consideration to the II General Assembly in Geneva in 1948. The medical vow was adopted and the Assembly agreed to name it the “Declaration of Geneva.” Member associations were invited to recommend the use of this vow to the medical schools and faculties of their countries.
A report on “War Crimes and Medicine” received at the II General Assembly prompted the Council to appoint another Study Committee to prepare an International Code of Medical Ethics. The draft was submitted to the midyear Council Session of 1949. The Council believed the draft Code would be incomplete unless the text of the “Declaration of Geneva” were added to it. This was done and the amended draft was transmitted to the delegates at the III General Assembly who discussed it item by item in detail. With minor amendments by the General Assembly the International Code of Medical Ethics was adopted.
With the adoption of these two documents, the WMA was on its way to taking on other ethical problems facing the medical profession. From 1949 to 1952, violations of medical ethics, and crimes committed by doctors in time of war were denounced to the WMA. The need to implement safeguards in human experimentation was brought to the attention of the WMA. At the same time, news was reaching WMA about the various activities incompetent organisations were promoting in the field of medical ethics and medical law. This information caused the Council to establish a permanent Committee on Medical Ethics (1952).
Since its establishment as a standing committee in 1952, the Committee on Medical Ethics has done a tremendous job in receiving, considering, discussing, accepting or refusing dozens of ethical matters brought to its attention. Some of them have been adopted as declarations or statements of the WMA, and most of these have been kept them in line with the rapid developments of medical science. Some are being worked on at this moment, and no doubt others will follow in due course after mature reflection, whenever novel circumstances dictate.
These documents have all received world-wide distribution and application. By solid accomplishments in the field of medical ethics, the WMA has earned the right to call itself the international voice of organized medicine. But medical ethics is not a simple matter of making declarations or drafting codes. The WMA must remain alert to violations of the codes and prepared for swift action to counteract such violations. Thus, WMA has and continues to extend its help and influence on behalf of physicians who are being hindered in applying ethical practices.