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The South African Medical Association (SAMA) has welcomed the modern successor to the Hippocratic Oath.

Physician leaders, meeting at the World Medical Association’s (WMA) annual General Assembly in Chicago, this weekend approved revisions to the Declaration of Geneva, which was adopted by the Association in 1948.

The revised Declaration, to be called a pledge, refocuses the text to reflect changes over the decades in the relationship between physicians and their patients and between physicians themselves. As a result, the new pledge makes specific reference for the first time to respecting the autonomy of the patient, which is not included in the current text. It also includes a new obligation for respect between teachers, colleagues and students. The present Declaration says students must respect their teachers, but there is no reciprocity.

There is a new obligation on physicians to share medical knowledge for the benefit of their patients and the advancement of healthcare. Also added is a requirement for physicians to attend to their own health, well-being and abilities in order to provide care of the highest standard.

The current Declaration of Geneva is used across the world by physicians. In many countries it is actually part of the medical professional code and in some it is legally binding. However, in other countries it is either not used at all or is adapted in some way.

The WMA is now expecting that the revised pledge, agreed following a two-year revision process, including a period for public consultation, will become a global ethical code for all physicians.

WMA President Dr Yoshitake Yokokura said: ‘The new wording respects the unique character and significance of this Declaration, but focuses more on important ethical principles not in the current version and not expressed explicitly.

‘The life of physicians today is completely different to what it was in 1948 when the original Declaration of Geneva was adopted. Since then, the Declaration has become a core document of medical ethics and a modern version of the 2,500-year old Hippocratic Oath.

‘We hope that the Declaration approved today will be used by all physicians around the world to strengthen the profession’s determination to maintain the highest standard of health care for patients’.

Dr Mzukisi Grootboom, chairperson of SAMA, says the new pledge is an important development.

“These changes bring the ethical issues faced by modern day physicians more sharply into focus, and provide a solid base to deal with them more effectively. As guiding principles for our profession we welcome them, and believe they will leave a meaningful ethical impact on all of us now and in the future.”