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The CMA has a beam in its eye

Voices Oct. 18, 2018

The World Medical Association calls euthanasia “unethical” and something to be condemned by the medical profession. The Canadian Medical Association disagrees and resigned from the WMA at its recent meeting in Reykjavik. (WMA photo)

The Canadian Medical Association, long out of touch with its members, now seems to be further removed from reality.

Attending a meeting of the World Medical Association in Iceland, the CMA made the peculiar decision to resign from the WMA, citing some copy and pasting that appeared in the speech of the incoming president.

The explanation the CMA delegation cited for pulling out of the WMA shows the CMA has some difficulty with ethical decision-making, casting out the mote in another’s eye while missing the beam in its own.

Going to the meeting, the CMA had an agenda. Working with the Royal Dutch Medical Association, it planned to lobby the WMA to drop its condemnation of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide and adopt a neutral position, despite the fact the WMA has always opposed doctor-assisted killing, as do most medical associations. Only six countries allow doctors to take their patients’ lives.

In 2005, the WMA restated its opposition to euthanasia, calling it “unethical” and something to be condemned by the medical profession. That irritates activists in the CMA bureaucracy who have long agitated for a more liberal stance.

Dr. Will Johnston, a Vancouver family physician and Chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of B.C., has said the CMA’s approach to euthanasia is similar to its behaviour when abortion was being legalized in Canada decades ago. Although most doctors at the time opposed abortion, the CMA portrayed the medical profession as pro-choice.

Likewise, “the CMA started debating the euthanasia issue with the promise that it would be completely neutral and support physicians on both sides of the issue,” Johnston told The B.C. Catholic.

Now activists in the CMA are promoting euthanasia despite the fact “it has no mandate from its membership to push Canada’s sloppy system on the rest of the world.”

In fact, a group of Canadian doctors went to the WMA meeting in Iceland in an attempt to block the CMA’s efforts. “We are trying to oppose this,” said Dr. Tim Lau, president of the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians and Societies. Lau co-authored the article Euthanasia in Canada: a Cautionary Tale, which was published in the September 2018 World Medical Association Journal.

Another Canadian group, the Canadian Physicians’ Alliance Against Euthanasia, told the conference the CMA position “does not reflect our views and experience” and called the CMA’s proposed neutral stance “illogical and untenable.”

That “neutral position” from the CMA influenced Canada’s 2015 Supreme Court ruling striking down the assisted suicide law, said the alliance. Since legalization, “there is constant pressure to normalize and expand these practices and to abandon the safeguards instituted to protect vulnerable people.” The government is now considering euthanasia to children and those with mental illness and cognitive disorders, while doctors and hospitals “are under pressure to provide euthanasia or to refer for it, even when it violates their fundamental principles.”

Probably sensing the tide was against them, the Canadians and their Dutch confreres backed off. Even a more moderate proposal from the German delegation was rejected overwhelmingly, with some WMA members pointing out the organization was founded in large measure as a response to medical killing in the Second World War.

In what appears to be a monumental fit of pique, the CMA resigned its membership in the WMA, but citing completely unrelated grounds. The delegation said WMA President Dr. Leonid Eidelman’s inaugural speech contained passages from a previous (Canadian) inaugural speech as well as unattributed web content. The CMA cried “plagiarism” and called for the president’s resignation. Eidelman was shocked by the allegation, apologized, and said a speechwriter hired to write the speech had copied the content without his knowledge. The WMA accepted the apology, but in high dudgeon, the CMA delegation resigned and walked out.

CMA president Dr. Gigi Osler said, “We must continue to hold ourselves to a high standard of professionalism and ethical behaviour.”

Coming from an organization that was lobbying to make euthanasia more acceptable, that strains credulity. Or as clinical psychiatrist and ethicist Dr. Mark S. Komrad put it, the CMA appears to be engaging in some “projection,” dealing with the guilt of supporting euthanasia by condemning the WMA, which it now no longer belongs to and whose ethical code it can ignore.

What does the resignation of the CMA from the WMA teach us, asks Komrad? “Doctors killing patients is OK. But copying small parts of speeches is real evil – so evil in fact that it merits leaving the international community of medicine.”

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