May 24, 2024

Which is more egregious: euthanasia or plagiarism?

About five minutes before I was about to entrust this newsletter to MailChimp, I heard that the Canadian Medical Association had just withdrawn from the World Medical Association after the WMA's annual meeting in Reykjavík.

The CMA said that the trigger for this dramatic turn of events was the highly unethical behaviour of the incoming president of the WMA, Dr Leonid Eidelman. It accused Dr Eidelman of plagiarism. This was true and not very smart. A few sentences in Dr Eidelman’s inaugural address to the assembly had been lifted from the inaugural address of a former president of the CMA, Dr Chris Simpson. Since Dr Simpson was one of the CMA’s delegates in Reykjavík, it was highly unlikely that this would go unnoticed. Apparently other passages had also been copied from “various websites, blogs and news articles, without appropriate attribution to the authors”.

“As an organization that holds itself as the arbiter of medical ethics at the global level, the WMA has failed to uphold its own standards,” said Dr Gigi Osler, the current CMA president. “The CMA cannot, in all good conscience, continue to be a member of such an organization.”

The WMA Council and the Assembly accepted an apology from Dr Eidelman. He said that he had relied upon speechwriters – a plausible excuse, as he is a Latvian who emigrated to Israel and who speaks English with a heavy accent.  

This is not the first time that a WMA president has been accused of moral failings. The immediate past president, Dr Ketan Desai, was elected while facing criminal charges for corruption in India. At the time, medical ethicist Art Caplan urged the WMA to ditch him as morally compromised. It didn’t.

So the Canadians’ reaction seems disproportionate. It is more likely that it was prompted by the WMA’s firm opposition to euthanasia, which the CMA vigorously supports. One of the CMA delegates, Dr Jeff Blackmer, posted a bitter tweet about the irony that an unethical plagiarist had once openly criticised him for being unethical in backing euthanasia.

No doubt euthanasia will continue to split the medical profession. Any comments from readers?

Michael Cook
Canadian Medical Association withdraws from world body