Why Euthanasia Is Unethical.

Dr Rene Leiva, Dr Tim Lau and Gordon Friesen

‘Unanimously, a declaration was adopted which simply says that euthanasia is unethical.’

Thus read a brief initial note in the World Medical Journal of 1987 with reference to the key passage of a new WMA Declaration on Euthanasia adopted in the Madrid General Assembly of that year [1]. Concise as this message was, it announced the affirmation of a powerful, enduring medical dictum, and we believe it to be essential for us, today, to understand the context in which it came about.

The WMA was founded in 1947, in part to work for the highest possible standards of ethical behaviour and care among physicians. This was considered particularly important after the gross ethical violations observed, by physicians themselves during the Second World War (1939-45) [2]. In 1987, several members of the WMA, who had had personal experience with these atrocities, were still alive. One of them, Dr. Andre Wynen, who was then Secretary General, and a Nazi camp survivor himself, was a strong advocate of the formulation of the Declaration ‘because protection of life was very important for him’ [3]. These sentiments were echoed in a 1989 essay by then WMA President Ram Ishay from the Israeli Medical Association [4]. Dr. Ishay explained that the WMA had not seen the need to pass such a Declaration earlier, because it had already adopted policies laying out what it considered to be appropriate and ethical end of life care. However, given new positions emerging within some countries, it felt the need to break this silence, and passed the present Declaration unanimously. This robust vehicle was subsequently reaffirmed in 2005 and again in 2015.

The authors of this article are three Canadians – two are practicing physicians and the other a severely disabled individual – who have combined their efforts, here, in the hope of preserving, once again, the deep and timely precautions WMA has maintained all these years. We ask that the full language of the original Declaration – explicitly stating that euthanasia “is unethical” – be preserved.

Full Text

More Headlines…