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Healthcare professions adopt new ethical principles for times of unrest


The new code of ethics can be used as a significant negotiation tool for healthcare personnel

An important step towards the protection of healthcare workers and patients in situations of unrest was taken yesterday evening when major global organisations for doctors, nurses and pharmacists adopted a set of new ethical principles.

‘Ethical principles of healthcare in times of armed conflict and other emergencies’ is a first-of-its-kind code of ethics that provides a common core for these healthcare professions. Organisations signing the code in Geneva, Switzerland, last night were the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP), the World Medical Association, the International Council of Nurses, the International Committee of Military Medicine and the International Federation of Medical Students Association, representing over 30 million healthcare workers.

Consistent information gathered by the International Committee of the Red Cross through its Health Care in Danger initiative has shown that, in armed conflict and other emergencies, healthcare personnel are often coerced into acting against healthcare ethics, or are victims of threats and subjected to deprivation of liberty for acting in accordance with the ethical principles of their profession. It is expected that this widely adopted new code of ethics can be used as a significant negotiation tool for healthcare personnel (in and beyond the humanitarian domain) with the authorities and other relevant actors. Its principles provide guidance on relations between patients and healthcare workers, and on issues such as discrimination, abuse of privileges, confidentiality and torture.

“In times of unrest, health professionals face hugely challenging situations, and ethics can be put under pressure, which may adversely affect our prime concern: the care of patients. This new code of ethics reflects our strong commitment to show a united front against all forms of violation of ethical principles. The principles in this code provide clear guidance and can be referred to whenever needed,” said Luc Besançon, FIP General Secretary and CEO.

“This tool is a major advancement for the protection of health professionals and patients. As health professionals, our primary task is to preserve health and to alleviate suffering, with humanity and dignity of the person concerned, with no discrimination of any kind, whether in times of peace or of armed conflict or other emergencies,” said Dr Xavier Deau, President of the World Medical Association.

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