WMA: The Challenge of Looking for a Global System of Values

22nd Dec, 2020

Founded in 1947, when physicians from 27 different countries met at the First General Assembly in Paris, the World Medical Association (WMA) is an international organisation representing doctors. It was created to ensure their independence and to work for the highest possible standards of ethical behaviour and care at all times. This was particularly important to physicians after the Second World War, and therefore the WMA has always been an independent confederation of free professional associations.

“The WMA provides a forum for its member associations to communicate freely, to cooperate actively, to achieve consensus on high standards of medical ethics and professional competence, and to promote the professional freedom of physicians worldwide. This unique partnership facilitates high-calibre, humane care to patients in a healthy environment, enhancing the quality of life for all people in the world.”

HQ Passport spoke with Dr Miguel Jorge, president of the World Medical Association (WMA) about current challenges and the importance of medical events.

1) You have scheduled the next work meetings (WMA Council Session and General Assembly) for the cities of Porto and Córdoba, this year. What are you looking for in a destination when it comes to holding the next event?

We are looking for conference venues that allow a seamless organisation of our meetings. Such places should be reachable within a reasonable amount of time from a major international airport, they should be safe and ideally offer a good value/price relation.

2) In the latest annual work report, the organisation touches on important issues like universal health coverage, workforce, migrations and human rights. From a political point of view, what are the regulations and the social model that you advocate for an ideal health system in 2020?

The WMA does not favour a specific type of a health care system. However, a health care system must be truly universal: it should cover all medical and health provisions that are appropriate to deal with a real medical demand, at a good quality and in a timely manner. It should cover this for all people who need and wish those services. Nobody should be financially damaged by health care costs. Which does not mean that health care does not cost money, but - at the point of service - financial capability must not matter. It is a government task to provide for such a health care system, regardless whether it is state-run, social insurance based, private or mixed.

"Our International Code of Medical Ethics has served in many countries as a blueprint for the national professional codes."

3) The WMA is adamantly opposed to the practice of euthanasia and assisted suicide, due to medical ethics and the vocational essence of the profession. Could there be a common ground in the discussion between ethical principles, scientific progress and progressive ideas?

Killing patients is neither a scientific advancement nor liberal, and certainly not progressive. It is the opposite. Modern medicine allows us to care for patients and accompany them during their last phase of life. When life comes to its end, it is the role of the physician to alleviate pain, anxiety and suffering. That is why we advocate making palliative care available for all persons who need it.

4) The WMA brings to the table more than 112 medical associations among other partnerships with the World Health Organization, government agencies or regional bodies. What are the major challenges, differences and advantages of managing an umbrella of this importance and extent?

Since its foundation in 1947 the WMA has been the global platform to develop medical ethics or medical deontology. With the Declaration of Geneva, we have provided the modern successor to the Hippocratic Oath. Our International Code of Medical Ethics has served in many countries as a blueprint for the national professional codes. Our Declaration of Helsinki is the global core document, regulating ethical conduct when doing medical experimentation with human beings. Finding and agreeing our common values and framing them in ethical principles, which are acceptable and applicable in all countries, is the big challenge we deal with. So far, we have been quite successful.

5) The outbreak of COVID-19 altered the normal dynamics of a world that was no longer used to a threat on this scale - contrary to what history teaches us. Is the current pandemic a sample of what the future holds?

A good portion of realism helps. We have far bigger health threats than COVID-19 permanently with us: influenza, tuberculosis, HIV-AIDS, malaria, even rabies kill many more people every year than COVID-19 most likely will do. The health effects of air pollution, and climate change are much bigger health problems. And other man-made problems like traffic accidents, smoking or alcohol consumption, the inequalities that we tolerate, etc... all outweigh the loss of lives of the current outbreak by magnitudes. That does not mean that we don’t have to take COVID-19 seriously. On the contrary: it is now important to learn. Learn how to fix our supply systems for medical goods, medicines and other essential items, how to contain epidemics, and where we make the situation even worse with constraints. If there is a scary thing, it is understanding that we are far from being prepared for any real dangerous outbreak.

"The WMA does not favour a specific type of a health care system, however a health care system must be truly universal (...)"

6) What can we predict about the potential and impact of digitalisation, augmented reality, big data, machine learning or nanotechnology for the evolution of medicine and healthcare? Is there a risk that the creator will be dominated by the creation itself?

We embrace the technological developments very positively. We see the chances for a better medicine and a better healthcare. But any new technology needs careful and deep ethical analysis. Not everything that can be done should be done and we work to bring rules to the digital world that help us protect our common values and especially human dignity. We may not be dominated by our creation, but we may fail by our mistakes. We will focus our attention on making the new technologies fostering the patient-physician relationship and not getting in its way.

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