Racism is a structural determinant of health and drives health and social inequities. The recent incidents of anti-Black violence, racism and discrimination in the US and Canada also shed light on the structural inequities and racism that exist within the medical profession and the health system.
The profession of medicine is grounded in respect for all people. This commitment recognizes that everyone has equal and inherent worth, the right to be valued and respected, and the right to be treated with dignity.
It’s critical that our medical culture – and society more broadly – upholds these values. But today, we’re reminded that there’s much more to do as a profession, and as a global community, to get us there.
Earlier this year, we launched our first-ever policy on equity and diversity in medicine Opens in a new window to help break down the many broad and systemic barriers that remain, to reduce discrimination and bias within our profession, and to create physically and psychologically safe environments for ourselves, our colleagues and our patients.
Alongside this policy comes a commitment to holding ourselves accountable to recognizing and challenging behaviours, practices and conditions that hinder equity and diversity, including racism.
Instances of racism, intolerance, exclusion, violence and discrimination have no place in medicine, and no place in our society. The Canadian Medical Association condemns racism in all its forms. Today, we stand alongside all those who have been affected by these appalling and inexcusable actions and beliefs.
Dr. Sandy Buchman
President, Canadian Medical Association
The current global pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus has presented the international medical community with unprecedented ethical challenges. The most difficult of these has involved making decisions about access to scarce resources when demand outweighs capacity.
In Canada, it is well accepted that everyone should have an equal opportunity to access and receive medical treatment. This is possible when there are sufficient resources. But in contexts of resource scarcity, when there are insufficient resources, difficult decisions have to be made about who receives critical care (e.g., ICU beds, ventilators) by triaging patients. Triage is a process for determining which patients receive treatment and/or which level of care under what circumstances in contexts of resource scarcity. Priority-setting for resource allocation becomes more ethically complex during catastrophic times or in public health emergencies, such as today’s COVID-19 pandemic, when there is a need to manage a potential surge of patients.
Physicians from China to Italy to Spain to the United States have found themselves in the unfathomable position of having to triage their most seriously ill patients and decide which ones should have access to ventilators and which should not, and which allocation criteria should be used to make these decisions. While the Canadian Medical Association hopes that Canadian physicians will not be faced with these agonizing choices, it is our intent, through this framework, to provide them with guidance in case they do and enable them to make ethically justifiable informed decisions in the face of difficult ethical dilemmas. Invoking this framework to ground decisions about who has access to critical care and who does not should only be made as a last resort. As always, physicians should carefully document their clinical and ethical decisions and the reasoning behind them.
Generally, the CMA would spend many months in deliberations and consultations with numerous stakeholders, including patients and the public, before producing a document such as this one. The current situation, unfortunately, did not allow for such a process. We have turned instead to documents, reports and policies produced by our Italian colleagues and ethicists and physicians from Canada and around the world, as well as provincial level documents and frameworks.
The CMA is endorsing and recommending that Canadian physicians use the guidance provided by Emmanuel and colleagues in the New England Journal of Medicine article dated from March 23rd, as outlined below. We believe these recommendations represent the best current approach to this situation, produced using the highest current standard of evidence by a panel of internationally recognized experts. We also recognize that the situation is changing constantly, and these guidelines may need to be updated as required.
The CMA will continue to advocate for access to personal protective equipment, ventilators and ICU equipment and resources. We also encourage physicians to make themselves aware of any relevant provincial or local documents, and to seek advice from their regulatory body or liability protection provider. It should be noted that some provinces and indeed individual health care facilities will have their own protocols or frameworks in place. At the time of its publication, this document was broadly consistent with those protocols that we were given an opportunity to review.
The CMA recognizes that physicians may experience moral distress when making these decisions. We encourage physicians to seek peer support and practice self-care. In addition, the CMA recommends that triage teams or committees be convened where feasible in order to help separate clinical decision making from resource allocation, thereby lessening the moral burden being placed on the individual physician.
The CMA recommends that physicians receive legal protection to ensure that they can continue providing needed care to patients with confidence and support and without fear of civil or criminal liability or professional discipline. In this time of uncertainty, physicians should be reassured that their good faith efforts to provide care during such a crisis will not put them at increased medical-legal risk. Providing such reassurance is needed so that physicians have the confidence to continue to provide care to their patients.
Recommendation 1: In the context of a pandemic, the value of maximizing benefits is most important. This value reflects the importance of responsible stewardship of resources: it is difficult to justify asking health care workers and the public to take risks and make sacrifices if the promise that their efforts will save and lengthen lives is illusory. Priority for limited resources should aim both at saving the most lives and at maximizing improvements in individuals’ post-treatment length of life. Saving more lives and more years of life is a consensus value across expert reports. It is consistent both with utilitarian ethical perspectives that emphasize population outcomes and with nonutilitarian views that emphasize the paramount value of each human life. There are many reasonable ways of balancing saving more lives against saving more years of life; whatever balance between lives and life-years is chosen must be applied consistently.
Limited time and information in a Covid-19 pandemic make it justifiable to give priority to maximizing the number of patients that survive treatment with a reasonable life expectancy and to regard maximizing improvements in length of life as a subordinate aim. The latter becomes relevant only in comparing patients whose likelihood of survival is similar. Limited time and information during an emergency also counsel against incorporating patients’ future quality of life, and quality-adjusted life-years, into benefit maximization. Doing so would require time-consuming collection of information and would present ethical and legal problems. However, encouraging all patients, especially those facing the prospect of intensive care, to document in an advance care directive what future quality of life they would regard as acceptable and when they would refuse ventilators or other life-sustaining interventions can be appropriate.
Operationalizing the value of maximizing benefits means that people who are sick but could recover if treated are given priority over those who are unlikely to recover even if treated and those who are likely to recover without treatment. Because young, severely ill patients will often comprise many of those who are sick but could recover with treatment, this operationalization also has the effect of giving priority to those who are worst off in the sense of being at risk of dying young and not having a full life.
Because maximizing benefits is paramount in a pandemic, we believe that removing a patient from a ventilator or an ICU bed to provide it to others in need is also justifiable and that patients should be made aware of this possibility at admission. Undoubtedly, withdrawing ventilators or ICU support from patients who arrived earlier to save those with better prognosis will be extremely psychologically traumatic for clinicians — and some clinicians might refuse to do so. However, many guidelines agree that the decision to withdraw a scarce resource to save others is not an act of killing and does not require the patient’s consent. We agree with these guidelines that it is the ethical thing to do. Initially allocating beds and ventilators according to the value of maximizing benefits could help reduce the need for withdrawal.
Recommendation 2: Irrespective of Recommendation 1, Critical Covid-19 interventions — testing, PPE, ICU beds, ventilators, therapeutics, and vaccines — should go first to front-line health care workers and others who care for ill patients and who keep critical infrastructure operating, particularly workers who face a high risk of infection and whose training makes them difficult to replace. These workers should be given priority not because they are somehow more worthy, but because of their instrumental value: they are essential to pandemic response. If physicians and nurses and RTs are incapacitated, all patients — not just those with Covid-19 — will suffer greater mortality and years of life lost. Whether health workers who need ventilators will be able to return to work is uncertain but giving them priority for ventilators recognizes their assumption of the high-risk work of saving others. Priority for critical workers must not be abused by prioritizing wealthy or famous persons or the politically powerful above first responders and medical staff — as has already happened for testing. Such abuses will undermine trust in the allocation framework.
Recommendation 3: For patients with similar prognoses, equality should be invoked and operationalized through random allocation, such as a lottery, rather than a first-come, first-served allocation process. First-come, first-served is used for such resources as transplantable kidneys, where scarcity is long-standing, and patients can survive without the scarce resource. Conversely, treatments for coronavirus address urgent need, meaning that a first-come, first-served approach would unfairly benefit patients living nearer to health facilities. And first-come, first-served medication or vaccine distribution would encourage crowding and even violence during a period when social distancing is paramount. Finally, first-come, first-served approaches mean that people who happen to get sick later on, perhaps because of their strict adherence to recommended public health measures, are excluded from treatment, worsening outcomes without improving fairness. In the face of time pressure and limited information, random selection is also preferable to trying to make finer-grained prognostic judgments within a group of roughly similar patients.
Recommendation 4: Prioritization guidelines should differ by intervention and should respond to changing scientific evidence. For instance, younger patients should not be prioritized for Covid-19 vaccines, which prevent disease rather than cure it, or for experimental post- or pre-exposure prophylaxis. Covid-19 outcomes have been significantly worse in older persons and those with chronic conditions. Invoking the value of maximizing saving lives justifies giving older persons priority for vaccines immediately after health care workers and first responders. If the vaccine supply is insufficient for patients in the highest risk categories — those over 60 years of age or with coexisting conditions — then equality supports using random selection, such as a lottery, for vaccine allocation. Invoking instrumental value justifies prioritizing younger patients for vaccines only if epidemiologic modeling shows that this would be the best way to reduce viral spread and the risk to others.
Epidemiologic modeling is even more relevant in setting priorities for coronavirus testing. Federal guidance currently gives priority to health care workers and older patients but reserving some tests for public health surveillance could improve knowledge about Covid-19 transmission and help researchers target other treatments to maximize benefits.
Conversely, ICU beds and ventilators are curative rather than preventive. Patients who need them face life-threatening conditions. Maximizing benefits requires consideration of prognosis — how long the patient is likely to live if treated — which may mean giving priority to younger patients and those with fewer coexisting conditions. This is consistent with the Italian guidelines that potentially assign a higher priority for intensive care access to younger patients with severe illness than to elderly patients. Determining the benefit-maximizing allocation of antivirals and other experimental treatments, which are likely to be most effective in patients who are seriously but not critically ill, will depend on scientific evidence. These treatments may produce the most benefit if preferentially allocated to patients who would fare badly on ventilation.
Recommendation 5: People who participate in research to prove the safety and effectiveness of vaccines and therapeutics should receive some priority for Covid-19 interventions. Their assumption of risk during their participation in research helps future patients, and they should be rewarded for that contribution. These rewards will also encourage other patients to participate in clinical trials. Research participation, however, should serve only as a tiebreaker among patients with similar prognoses.
Recommendation 6: There should be no difference in allocating scarce resources between patients with Covid-19 and those with other medical conditions. If the Covid-19 pandemic leads to absolute scarcity, that scarcity will affect all patients, including those with heart failure, cancer, and other serious and life-threatening conditions requiring prompt medical attention. Fair allocation of resources that prioritizes the value of maximizing benefits applies across all patients who need resources. For example, a doctor with an allergy who goes into anaphylactic shock and needs life-saving intubation and ventilator support should receive priority over Covid-19 patients who are not frontline health care workers.
Approved by the CMA Board of Directors April 2020
Health and safety in the workplace continue to be areas of concern to the CMA. The CMA recommends that educational programs on the risks of drug-related impairment to health and safety in the workplace be directed toward labour, management and the public in general. Occupations for which impairment resulting from drug use may constitute a serious hazard should be identified and designated as such. The association recommends that supervisors be trained to refer a worker in a safety-sensitive job for a health assessment if the supervisor has reasonable grounds to suspect impairment of the worker. Workers holding safety-sensitive jobs should be educated to report any departure from their usual state of health as well as any drugs (prescribed or otherwise) being taken to the occupational health physician or, in the absence of such, to the physician of the worker's choice. The CMA is opposed to routine pre-employment drug testing. It recommends that random drug testing among employees be restricted to safety-sensitive positions and undertaken only when measures of performance and effective peer or supervisory observation are unavailable. Drug testing should always be conducted in such a way as to protect confidentiality and should be undertaken with the subject's informed consent (except when otherwise required by law).
The idea of drug testing among workers has developed from society's concern over the relation between drug use and impairment, with resultant risks to the worker, fellow workers and the public.
Education: Since prevention is the principal and ultimate objective the association recommends that educational programs on the risks of impairment to health and safety in the workplace be directed toward labour, management and the public in general.
Illicit drugs are not the only ones that may cause impairment. Certain prescription drugs and even some over-the-counter medications may affect a person's ability to carry out professional functions safely; such effects may vary considerably from one person to another.
Alcohol is by far the most common impairing drug implicated in accidents; in addition, the scientific literature contains a growing body of information on impairment and dangers resulting from the use and misuse of various therapeutic medications. Far less is documented or known about the role of illicit drugs in work-related accidents.
Safety-sensitive occupations: In most workplaces there are occupations for which impairment may constitute a serious hazard. Such occupations should be identified and designated as such. Workers who hold such safety-sensitive jobs must accept the fact that other workers and the public need to be protected from the hazards of impairment, whether from physical or psychologic ill health or from the use of drugs (over-the-counter, prescription or illicit).
Performance assessment of safety-sensitive occupations: The CMA recommends that supervisors be trained to refer a worker in a safety-sensitive job for a health assessment if the supervisor has reasonable grounds (e.g., unsatisfactory performance or observed unusual behaviour) to suspect impairment of the worker. The examining physician may recommend that some tests (including tests for the presence of certain drugs) be carried out under pre-agreed protocols. Workers holding safety-sensitive jobs must be educated to report any departure from their usual state of health as well as any drugs (prescribed or otherwise) they may be taking to the occupational health physician or, in the absence of such, to the physician of the worker's choice.
Testing: Any discussion of drug testing must take the following into account:
If a quantitative test is to be used to determine impairment a limit must be established beyond which a person is deemed to be impaired. However, since the threshold of impairment varies from one person to another this variation should be taken into account when a worker is being assessed.
The tests must be valid and reliable. They must be performed only in laboratories accredited for drug testing.
The tests must provide results rapidly enough to be useful in deciding whether the person should continue to work.
If different testing procedures are available and the differences between the validity and reliability are not significant the least intrusive alternative should be chosen.
The test should be conducted in such a way as to ensure confidentiality and should be undertaken with the subject's informed consent (except when otherwise required by law).
Pre-employment testing: The CMA opposes routine pre-employment drug testing for the following reasons:
Routine pre-employment drug screening may not objectively identify those people who constitute a risk to society.
The mass, low-cost screening tests may not be reliable or valid.
The circumstances may not justify possible human rights violations.
Random testing: The CMA believes that random drug testing among employees has a limited role, if any, in the workplace. Such testing should be restricted to employees in safety-sensitive positions and undertaken only when measures of performance and effective peer or supervisory observation are unavailable.
Role of occupational health services: Occupational health physicians must not be involved in a policing or disciplinary role with respect to employee testing.
CMA recommends that employers provide a safe environment for all workers. With the help of experts such as those from national and provincial agencies dedicated to dealing with substance abuse occupational health departments should develop lists of drugs known to cause short-term or long-term impairment, including alcohol. These lists should be posted prominently in the workplace, and workers should be advised that in the event of obvious impairment those involved in safety-sensitive occupations will be asked to undergo medical assessment. If testing for drugs is indicated refusal to submit to testing may result in a presumption of noncompliance with the health requirements of the job.
Alcohol impairment should not be tolerated, and legislation should be considered that would set a legal blood alcohol level for safety-sensitive occupations. Breathalyzers or other detection methods could be used if alcohol impairment is suspected in a person holding safety-sensitive occupation. As stated previously, refusal to submit to testing may result in a presumption of noncompliance with the health requirements of the job.
These measures should be discussed with labour and management. Labour should be expected to recognize drug-related impairment as a serious health and safety issue, and management should demonstrate its concern by ensuring access to treatment, prevention and educational programs such as employee assistance programs.
Like all scientific and medical procedures, assisted human reproduction has the potential for both benefit and harm. It is in the interests of individual Canadians and Canadian society in general that these practices be regulated so as to maximize their benefits and minimize their harms. To help achieve this goal, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has developed this policy on regulating these practices. It replaces previous CMA policy on assisted reproduction.
The objectives of any Canadian regulatory regime for assisted reproduction should include the following:
(a) to protect the health and safety of Canadians in the use of human reproductive materials for assisted reproduction, other medical procedures and medical research;
(b) to ensure the appropriate treatment of human reproductive materials outside the body in recognition of their potential to form human life; and
(c) to protect the dignity of all persons, in particular children and women, in relation to uses of human reproductive materials.
When a Canadian regulatory regime for assisted reproduction is developed, it should incorporate the following principles:
For the regulation of assisted reproduction, existing organizations such as medical licensing authorities, accreditation bodies and specialist societies should be involved to the greatest extent possible.
If the legislation establishing the regulatory regime is to include prohibitions as well as regulation, the prohibition of specific medical and scientific acts must be justified on explicit scientific and/or ethical grounds.
If criminal sanctions are to be invoked, they should apply only in cases of deliberate contravention of the directives of the regulatory agency and not to specific medical and scientific acts.
Whatever regulatory agency is created should include significant membership of scientists and clinicians working in the area of assisted reproduction.
Elements of a Regulatory Regime
The regulation of assisted reproduction in Canada should include the following elements:
Legislation to create a national regulatory body with appropriate responsibilities and accountability for coordinating the activities of organizations that are working in the area of assisted reproduction and for carrying out functions that other organizations cannot perform.
The development and monitoring of national standards for research related to human subjects including genetics and reproduction. The regulatory body would work closely with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, other federal and provincial research granting councils, the National Council on Ethics in Human Research and other such organizations.
The development and monitoring of national standards for training and certifying physicians in those reproductive technologies deemed acceptable. As is the case for all post-graduate medical training in Canada, this is appropriately done through bodies such as the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and the College of Family Physicians of Canada.
The licensing and monitoring of individual physicians. This task is the responsibility of the provincial and territorial medical licensing authorities which could regulate physician behaviour in respect to the reproductive technologies, just as they do for other areas of medical practice.
The development of guidelines for medical procedures. This should be done by medical specialty societies such as the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) and the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society (CFAS).
The accreditation of facilities where assisted reproduction is practised. There is already in Canada a well functioning accreditation system, run by the Canadian Council on Health Services Accreditation, which may be suitable for assisted reproduction facitilies.
Whatever regulatory body is established to deal with assisted reproduction should utilize, not duplicate, the work of these organizations. In order to maximize the effectiveness of these organizations, the regulatory body could provide them with additional resources and delegated powers.
The CMA is opposed to the criminalization of scientific and medical procedures. Criminalization represents an unjustified intrusion of government into the patient-physician relationship. Previous attempts to criminalize medical procedures (for example, abortion) were ultimately self-defeating. If the federal government wishes to use its criminal law power to regulate assisted reproduction, criminal sanctions should apply only in cases of deliberate contravention of the directives of the regulatory agency and not to specific medical and scientific acts.
Guidelines for CMA’s Activities and Relationships with Other Parties
As the national voice of medicine in Canada, the CMA provides leadership for physicians, promotes the highest standards of health and health care for Canadians and acts as advocate for all Canadian physicians. In the furtherance of its purpose, the CMA conducts a variety of activities and has a variety of relationships with other parties. The CMA’s activities range from policy development to the delivery of products and services to physicians and the public. Its relationships with other parties range from the purchase of goods and services that support operations to partnerships that further or are consistent with its advocacy strategies.
The CMA actively seeks out relationships with others in recognition of the benefits these bring in the attainment of the CMA’s purposes. Such benefits may include:
- unifying the profession through relations with physician groups, including the divisions and affiliates
- enabling a stronger advocacy voice in association with others
- enhancing the CMA’s credibility with other parties
- providing financial and human resources to support CMA activities
- providing skills and capabilities that CMA may not possess
- providing additional membership services.
Activities or relationships with other parties and products and services produced through the activity or relationship (“activities or relationships”) that undermine the CMA’s reputation of professionalism, independence and quality are to be avoided, not only for their own sake but also because a diminishment of the CMA’s reputation impedes its ability to achieve its purposes.
The following principles have been developed to help guide decisions about the kinds of activities CMA undertakes and about its relations with other parties, with the objective of ensuring the integrity and good reputation of the CMA. A process or processes will be developed to implement the principles, which will include the preparation of subdocuments on applying the principles to specific areas; for example, sponsorship, endorsement and coalitions.
The CMA should rigorously and actively pursue its laudable ends and seek out relationships with others to attain them with the caveat that activities or relationships that would tarnish the integrity or reputation of CMA or the medical profession or that would diminish the trust placed in them should be avoided.
Conformity with CMA’s purpose
The activity or relationship should further or support the CMA’s purposes as elaborated in its objects, vision and mission.
The CMA’s purposes have been explicitly and widely agreed upon.
The CMA holds itself to be, and encourages reliance that it is, an organization that pursues its specified purposes.
Activities and relationships that do not further or support the CMA’s purposes have the potential to thwart these purposes in a number of ways, including inadequate accountability, inappropriate use of resources, unconstrained exercise of merely private judgement or inappropriate self-interest.
2. Medical professionalism and ethics
The activity or relationship should be consistent with medical professionalism and with CMA’s Code of Ethics.
The CMA is an association of physicians.
When the CMA acts, it represents the medical profession.
The CMA’s actions reflect upon the medical profession.
The CMA’s stature and reputation are inextricably linked to the medical profession’s work, the professional stature of its member physicians and the trust Canadians place in their physicians.
Engaging in activities or relationships that are inconsistent with medical professionalism and CMA’s Code of Ethics would erode trust in the CMA.
The activity or relationship should not undermine the CMA’s independence.
To be a credible voice and influence and to be worthy of the trust and confidence of physicians and of the public, the CMA should be, and be seen to be, free of undue influence and in control of the decisions it makes.
Undue influence occurs when one is induced to do or not do something that is contrary to what one would otherwise do if left to act freely. Undue influence deprives one of free agency and destroys free will such that it is rendered more the will of another than of one’s own.
Activities and relationships that may undermine independence include:
activities or relationships that provide revenue or benefit to the CMA such that ongoing dependency on the revenue or benefit impedes independence
activities and relationships that create a product or service that is seen to be associated with the CMA but over which the CMA does not have final control or veto or the capacity to extricate itself
Consistency with policy
The activity or relationship should be consistent with CMA policy.
The CMA develops policy in pursuance of its purposes; these should be referred to when making decisions in connection with activities or relationships.
Conflicting goals and activities
Relationships with parties whose goals or activities directly conflict with the CMA’s objects, mission or vision should be avoided.
This does not preclude discussion with others or participation in events for the purposes of obtaining information, monitoring or lobbying.
The terms and conditions of the activity or relationship should be transparent.
Transparency promotes an openness to scrutiny and serves to enhance accountability and to discourage relationships or activities that could be considered problematic.
The principle is generally applicable except in connection to matters related to competitive advantage, trade secret or a reasonable agreement of confidentiality.
Compliance and accountability
Processes must be in place to ensure that proposed and ongoing activities or relationships are appropriately reviewed for compliance with and clear accountability for these principles.
These include the activities of the secretariat and the corporate subsidiaries.