Words matter: appeal to the delegates at the 212th WMA Council Session

For immediate release

Montreal, April 24, 2019

Words matter: appeal to the delegates at the 212th WMA Council Session 

The Physicians’ Alliance against Euthanasia, representing 1100 Canadian doctors, continues to be concerned about discussions at the World Medical Association (WMA) forums concerning euthanasia and assisted suicide. We are aware that the proposed Reconsideration of WMA Statement on this matter, submitted to the 210th Council in Reykjavik by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and the Royal Dutch Medical Association(RDMA), that the WMA move to a neutral stance on euthanasia and assisted suicide, was withdrawn, and a compromise proposal was submitted by the German Medical Association in response to pressure from the CMA and the RDMA.

As delegates gather in Santiago, Chile for the 212th WMA Council Session, we once again reach out to you, to express our grave concerns about this topic.

Our first concern is about language. Aware that the compromise proposal removes the term Physician-assisted suicide, replacing it with Physician-assisted dying, and removes the reference to euthanasia and assisted suicide being unethical, we call your attention to the importance of each word in codes of ethics.

When the legalization of euthanasia was first being studied in the province of Quebec (Canada), those promoting the bill deliberately changed the terminology being used, rejecting the word euthanasia, which they considered “emotionally charged and not everyone agrees on its use” [1],and introducing instead the term medical aid in dying. A survey [2] done at that time found that only one-third of the population knew that medical aid in dying referred to an act that would directly cause the death of a patient. Most thought it referred to withdrawing burdensome care or to providing palliative care. We consider it very important that the terms euthanasia and physician assisted suicide be retained in any future document of WMA in the interest of clarity.

Our second concern is about the ethical nature of these acts. The act of deliberately and directly ending the life of a patient cannot be both ethical and unethical. The WMA has considered it unethical from the very first day of its existence, and as was seen in Reykjavik a few months ago, a great majority of the international medical community maintains that position. Recent events at the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) demonstrate the impossibility of maintaining a neutral position on these acts. In 2014 the CMA succeeded in adopting a motion supporting the “right of all physicians, within the bounds of existing legislation, to follow their conscience in deciding whether to provide medical aid in dying”. Far from keeping the CMA neutral, this motion was followed rapidly by the Association declaring intentional hastening of death to be part of end of life care and promoting it nationally and internationally.

Since the Quebec and Canadian laws were adopted, thousands of Canadians have been euthanized. Lethal injection is promoted and suggested to patients, and there is constant pressure to include it among options at the end of life for all patients. We entreat all delegates to ensure that the WMA continues to consider these acts as unethical and maintains clear and unambiguous terminology.


[1] http://www.assnat.qc.ca/en/travaux-parlementaires/commissions/csmd-39-2/index.html#documentsReflexion

[2] https://vivredignite.org/sites/vivredignite.org/wp-content/uploads/13-09-24-vdd-sondage-en.pdf


The Physicians’ Alliance against Euthanasia seeks to ensure quality medical care and respectful decision-making for vulnerable patients, especially those at risk of pressure to end their lives prematurely through euthanasia or assisted suicide, and to protect the professional integrity of all health care workers.


For further information:

In Canada: +1 (438) 938-9410/ info@collectifmedecins.org

In Chile: Dr. Paul Saba +1 (514) 886-3447

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