International Code of Medical Ethics

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World Medical Association

1949, amended 1968, 1983


The International Code of Medical Ethics was adopted by the third General Assembly of the World Medical Association (WMA) at London in 1949, and amended in 1968 by the twenty-second World Medical Assembly at Sydney and in 1983 by the thirty-fifth World Medical Assembly at Venice. The code, which was modeled after the Declaration of Geneva and the medical ethics codes of most modern countries, states the most general principles of ethical medical practice.

The original draft of the code included the statement, "Therapeutic abortion may only be performed if the conscience of the doctors and the national laws permit," which was deleted from the adopted version because of its controversial nature. In addition, the words "from conception" were deleted from the statement regarding the doctor's obligation to preserve human life.

The 1983 version of the code, which is still current, reflects several changes from the version originally adopted. There are numerous changes in language, for example, the phrase "A physician shall … " replaces "A doctor must.…" Substantive changes include the addition of the paragraphs on providing competent medical service; on honesty and exposing physicians deficient in character; and on respecting rightsand safeguarding confidences. Also, as in the Declaration of Geneva, the duty of confidentiality is extended to "even after the patient has died." Under practices deemed unethical, collaboration "in any form of medical service in which the doctor does not have professional independence" has been deleted, but the importance of professional independence is emphasized elsewhere in the text.

Duties of Physicians in General

A physician shall always maintain the highest standards of professional conduct.

A physician shall not permit motives of profit to influence the free and independent exercise of professional judgement on behalf of patients.

A physician shall, in all types of medical practice, be dedicated to providing competent medical service in full technical and moral independence, with compassion and respect for human dignity.

A physician shall deal honestly with patients and colleagues, and strive to expose those physicians deficient in character or competence, or who engage in fraud or deception.

The following practices are deemed to be unethical conduct:

  • a) Self-advertising by physicians, unless permitted by the laws of the country and the Code of Ethics of the National Medical Association.
  • b) Paying or receiving any fee or any other consideration solely to procure the referral of a patient or for prescribing or referring a patient to any source.

A physician shall respect the rights of patients, of colleagues, and of other health professionals, and shall safeguard patient confidences.

A physician shall act only in the patient's interest when providing medical care which might have the effect of weakening the physical and mental condition of the patient.

A physician shall use great caution in divulging discoveries or new techniques or treatment through non-professional channels.

A physician shall certify only that which he has personally verified.

Duties of Physicians to the Sick

A physician shall always bear in mind the obligation of preserving human life.

A physician shall owe his patients complete loyalty and all the resources of his science. Whenever an examination or treatment is beyond the physician's capacity he should summon another physician who has the necessary ability.

A physician shall preserve absolute confidentiality on all he knows about his patient even after the patient has died.

A physician shall give emergency care as a humanitarian duty unless he is assured that others are willing and able to give such care.

Duties of Physicians to Each Other

A physician shall behave towards his colleagues as he would have them behave towards him.

A physician shall not entice patients from his colleagues.

A physician shall observe the principles of the "Declaration of Geneva" approved by the World Medical Association.

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International Code of Medical Ethics

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International Code of Medical Ethics