February 22, 2024

World Medical Association undermines conscience rights

The World Medical Association is largely toothless, but its policies matter. They can be used as a benchmark in bioethical debates in jurisdictions around the world. American bioethics journalist Wesley J. Smith has savagely attacked the WMA’s latest code of ethics as a betrayal of doctors’ conscience rights in the National Review.

He claims that “the WMA has eviscerated medical conscience rights in a way that would compel doctors to engage in interventions and actions to which they are morally or religiously opposed. It doesn’t do this blatantly, but subtly.”

The WMA’s code of ethics is regularly revised. The latest edition, which Smith is criticizing, was published in last year after a conference in Berlin. He points out that its defence of conscience rights is very weak.

The code says: “Physician conscientious objection to provision of any lawful medical interventions may only be exercised if the individual patient is not harmed or discriminated against and if the patient’s health is not endangered.” Obviously, a patient who believes that transgender surgery is needed for the sake of his mental health, could use this clause against an objecting doctor. Effectively, it means that any request which is “lawful” must be complied with.

As Smith points out: “’Lawful medical interventions’ includes human-life-taking actions such as abortion and euthanasia, as well as what many doctors consider to be harmful and/or permanently disfiguring gender-transition procedures (including on children) such as puberty-blocking, mastectomies for teenagers, facial reconstructions, and genital removal and refashioning.”

Smith warns readers: “The issue of medical conscience is now an international controversy. If the WMA Code becomes enforceable or is adopted into law, it will drive pro-life and many religious or traditional Hippocratic Oath–believing medical practitioners out of their profession around the world. Indeed, I suspect that is the point.”