Declaration of Geneva
The Declaration of Geneva (Physician’s Oath) was adopted by the General Assembly of the World Medical Association at Geneva in 1948, amended in 1968, 1983, 1994 and editorially revised in 2005 and 2006. It is a declaration of a physician‘s dedication to the humanitarian goals of medicine, a declaration that was especially important in view of the medical crimes which had just been committed in Nazi Germany. The Declaration of Geneva was intended as a revision of the Hippocratic Oath to a formulation of that oath’s moral truths that could be comprehended and acknowledged in a modern way.
During the post World War II era and immediately after its foundation, the WMA showed concern over the state of medical ethics in general and all over the world, taking the responsibility for setting ethical guidelines for the world physicians. The details of the Nazi Doctors’ Trial at Nuremberg and the revelations about what the Imperial Japanese Army had done at Unit 731 in China during the war clearly demonstrated the need for reform, and for a re-affirmed set of guidelines regarding both human rights and the rights of patients.
In 1946, a study committee had been appointed to prepare a “Charter of Medicine” which could be adopted as an oath or promise that every doctor in the world would make upon receiving his medical degree or diploma. It took two years of intensive study of the oaths and promises submitted by member associations to draft a modernized wording of the ancient oath of Hippocrates which was sent for consideration at the WMA’s second general assembly in Geneva in 1948. The medical vow was adopted and the assembly agreed to name it the “Declaration of Geneva.” This document was adopted by the World Medical Association only three months before the United Nations General Assemblyadopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) which provides for the security of the person.
The Declaration of Geneva, as currently published by the WMA  reads:
At the time of being admitted as a member of the medical profession:
- I solemnly pledge to consecrate my life to the service of humanity;
- I will give to my teachers the respect and gratitude that is their due;
- I will practice my profession with conscience and dignity;
- The health of my patient will be my first consideration;
- I will respect the secrets that are confided in me, even after the patient has died;
- I will maintain by all the means in my power, the honour and the noble traditions of the medical profession;
- My colleagues will be my sisters and brothers;
- I will not permit considerations of age, disease or disability, creed, ethnic origin, gender, nationality, political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, social standing or any other factor to intervene between my duty and my patient;
- I will maintain the utmost respect for human life;
- I will not use my medical knowledge to violate human rights and civil liberties, even under threat;
- I make these promises solemnly, freely and upon my honour.
Changes from original
The original oath read “My colleagues will be my brothers,” later changed to “sisters and brothers.” Age, disability, gender, and sexual orientation have been added as factors that must not interfere with a doctor’s duty to a patient; some rephrasing of existing elements has occurred. Secrets are to remain confidential “even after the patient has died.” The violation of “human rights and civil liberties” replaces “the laws of humanity” as a forbidden use of medical knowledge. The original declaration stated that a doctor would respect human life “from the time of conception,” and the 1994 revision stated “from its beginning.” which was removed altogether in the editorial revisions in the English version but is still found in other language versions that have not followed the editorial changes such as the German Handbuch der ärztlichen Ethik. “The health” in general of a patient is now the doctor’s first consideration compared to the “health and life” as stated in the original declaration. This was apparently changed to free the medical profession from extending life at all cost.
Timeline (WMA meetings)
- 1948: Adopted. 2nd General Assembly, Geneva
- 1968: First amendment. 22nd General Assembly, Sydney
- 1983: Second amendment. 35th General Assembly, Venice
- 1994: Third amendment. 46th General Assembly, Stockholm
- 2005: Editorial Revision. 170th Council Session, Divonne-les-Bains
- 2006: Editorial Revision. 173rd Council Session, Divonne-les-Bains
Upon a physician’s retirement, the “Physician’s Oath on Retirement” is being proposed “to address the moral, psychological, social, and cultural responsibilities that a physician assumes when voluntarily relinquishing the responsibilities of active medical practice.”
- Command responsibility
- Nuremberg Principles
- Nuremberg Code
- Declaration of Helsinki
- Human experimentation in the United States
- Belmont Report
- International Conference on Harmonisation of Technical Requirements for Registration of Pharmaceuticals for Human Use
- Informed consent
- World Medical Association, WMA. “WMA Declaration of Geneva”. WMA. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
- “World Medical Association (1997) press release 12 May”. Wma.net. 1997-05-10. Retrieved 2013-01-28.
- “International Code of Medical Ethics”. World Medical Association. Archived from the original on 2008-09-20.
- “WMA History”. WMA. Retrieved 2013-06-04.
- “The Oath”. Cirp.org. 2002-06-06. Retrieved 2013-06-04.
- World Medical Association. “WMA declaration of Geneva”. WMA. Retrieved 22 April 2013.
- Williams, John R. (2005). Handbuch der ärztlichen Ethik. Weltaertztebund. p. 19. ISBN 92-990028-0-0.
- Jones, David Albert. “The declaration of Geneva and other modern adaptations of the classical doctors’ oath”. Catholic Medical Association. Retrieved 17 June 2013.
- “A Physician’s Oath on Retirement”. Pubmedcentral.nih.gov. 2011-10-03. Retrieved 2011-11-23.