CMA CODE OF ETHICS AND PROFESSIONALISM
A compassionate physician recognizes suffering and vulnerability, seeks to understand the unique circumstances
of each patient and to alleviate the patient’s suffering, and accompanies the suffering and vulnerable patient.
An honest physician is forthright, respects the truth, and does their best to seek, preserve, and communicate
that truth sensitively and respectfully.
A humble physician acknowledges and is cautious not to overstep the limits of their knowledge and skills or the
limits of medicine, seeks advice and support from colleagues in challenging circumstances, and recognizes the
patient’s knowledge of their own circumstances.
A physician who acts with integrity demonstrates consistency in their intentions and actions and acts in a
truthful manner in accordance with professional expectations, even in the face of adversity.
A prudent physician uses clinical and moral reasoning and judgement, considers all relevant knowledge
and circumstances, and makes decisions carefully, in good conscience, and with due regard for principles of
exemplary medical care.
The CMA Code of Ethics and Professionalism articulates the ethical and professional commitments and responsibilities of the
medical profession. The Code provides standards of ethical practice to guide physicians in fulfilling their obligation to provide
the highest standard of care and to foster patient and public trust in physicians and the profession. The Code is founded on
and affirms the core values and commitments of the profession and outlines responsibilities related to contemporary medical
In this Code, ethical practice is understood as a process of active inquiry, reflection, and decision-making concerning what
a physician’s actions should be and the reasons for these actions. The Code informs ethical decision-making, especially in
situations where existing guidelines are insufficient or where values and principles are in tension. The Code is not exhaustive;
it is intended to provide standards of ethical practice that can be interpreted and applied in particular situations. The Code and
other CMA policies constitute guidelines that provide a common ethical framework for physicians in Canada.
In this Code, medical ethics concerns the virtues, values, and principles that should guide the medical profession, while
professionalism is the embodiment or enactment of responsibilities arising from those norms through standards,
competencies, and behaviours. Together, the virtues and commitments outlined in the Code are fundamental to the ethical
practice of medicine.
Physicians should aspire to uphold the virtues and commitments in the Code, and they are expected to enact the professional
responsibilities outlined in it.
Physicians should be aware of the legal and regulatory requirements that govern medical practice in their jurisdictions.
Trust is the cornerstone of the patient–physician relationship and of medical professionalism. Trust is therefore
central to providing the highest standard of care and to the ethical practice of medicine. Physicians enhance
trustworthiness in the profession by striving to uphold the following interdependent virtues:
A. VIRTUES EXEMPLIFIED BY THE ETHICAL PHYSICIAN
B. FUNDAMENTAL COMMITMENTS OF THE MEDICAL PROFESSION
Consider first the well-being of the patient; always act to benefit the patient and promote the good of the patient.
Provide appropriate care and management across the care continuum.
Take all reasonable steps to prevent or minimize harm to the patient; disclose to the patient if there is a
risk of harm or if harm has occurred.
Recognize the balance of potential benefits and harms associated with any medical act; act to bring about
a positive balance of benefits over harms.
Commitment to the well-being of the patient
Promote the well-being of communities and populations by striving to improve health outcomes and
access to care, reduce health inequities and disparities in care, and promote social accountability.
Commitment to justice
Practise medicine competently, safely, and with integrity; avoid any influence that could undermine
your professional integrity.
Develop and advance your professional knowledge, skills, and competencies through lifelong learning.
Commitment to professional integrity and competence
Always treat the patient with dignity and respect the equal and intrinsic worth of all persons.
Always respect the autonomy of the patient.
Never exploit the patient for personal advantage.
Never participate in or support practices that violate basic human rights.
Commitment to respect for persons
Contribute to the development and innovation in medicine through clinical practice, research, teaching,
mentorship, leadership, quality improvement, administration, or advocacy on behalf of the profession or
Participate in establishing and maintaining professional standards and engage in processes that support
the institutions involved in the regulation of the profession.
Cultivate collaborative and respectful relationships with physicians and learners in all areas of medicine
and with other colleagues and partners in health care.
Commitment to professional excellence
Value personal health and wellness and strive to model self-care; take steps to optimize meaningful
co-existence of professional and personal life.
Value and promote a training and practice culture that supports and responds effectively to colleagues in
need and empowers them to seek help to improve their physical, mental, and social well-being.
Recognize and act on the understanding that physician health and wellness needs to be addressed at
individual and systemic levels, in a model of shared responsibility.
Commitment to self-care and peer support
Value and foster individual and collective inquiry and reflection to further medical science and to
facilitate ethical decision-making.
Foster curiosity and exploration to further your personal and professional development and insight; be
open to new knowledge, technologies, ways of practising, and learning from others.
Commitment to inquiry and reflection
C. PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITIES
The patient–physician relationship is at the heart of the practice of medicine. It is a relationship of trust that recognizes the
inherent vulnerability of the patient even as the patient is an active participant in their own care. The physician owes a duty of
loyalty to protect and further the patient’s best interests and goals of care by using the physician’s expertise, knowledge, and
prudent clinical judgment.
In the context of the patient–physician relationship:
1. Accept the patient without discrimination (such as on the basis of age, disability, gender identity or expression, genetic
characteristics, language, marital and family status, medical condition, national or ethnic origin, political affiliation, race,
religion, sex, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status). This does not abrogate the right of the physician to refuse to
accept a patient for legitimate reasons.
2. Having accepted professional responsibility for the patient, continue to provide services until these services are no longer
required or wanted, or until another suitable physician has assumed responsibility for the patient, or until after the
patient has been given reasonable notice that you intend to terminate the relationship.
3. Act according to your conscience and respect differences of conscience among your colleagues; however, meet your
duty of non-abandonment to the patient by always acknowledging and responding to the patient’s medical concerns and
requests whatever your moral commitments may be.
4. Inform the patient when your moral commitments may influence your recommendation concerning provision of, or
practice of any medical procedure or intervention as it pertains to the patient’s needs or requests.
5. Communicate information accurately and honestly with the patient in a manner that the patient understands and can
apply, and confirm the patient’s understanding.
6. Recommend evidence-informed treatment options; recognize that inappropriate use or overuse of treatments or
resources can lead to ineffective, and at times harmful, patient care and seek to avoid or mitigate this.
7. Limit treatment of yourself, your immediate family, or anyone with whom you have a similarly close relationship to
minor or emergency interventions and only when another physician is not readily available; there should be no fee for
8. Provide whatever appropriate assistance you can to any person who needs emergency medical care.
9. Ensure that any research to which you contribute is evaluated both scientifically and ethically and is approved by a
research ethics board that adheres to current standards of practice. When involved in research, obtain the informed
consent of the research participant and advise prospective participants that they have the right to decline to participate
or withdraw from the study at any time, without negatively affecting their ongoing care.
10. Never participate in or condone the practice of torture or any form of cruel, inhuman, or degrading procedure.
Physicians and patients
11. Empower the patient to make informed decisions regarding their health by communicating with and helping the patient
(or, where appropriate, their substitute decision-maker) navigate reasonable therapeutic options to determine the best
course of action consistent with their goals of care; communicate with and help the patient assess material risks and
benefits before consenting to any treatment or intervention.
12. Respect the decisions of the competent patient to accept or reject any recommended assessment, treatment, or plan of
13. Recognize the need to balance the developing competency of minors and the role of families and caregivers in medical
decision-making for minors, while respecting a mature minor’s right to consent to treatment and manage their personal
14. Accommodate a patient with cognitive impairments to participate, as much as possible, in decisions that affect them;
in such cases, acknowledge and support the positive roles of families and caregivers in medical decision-making and
collaborate with them, where authorized by the patient’s substitute decision-maker, in discerning and making decisions
about the patient’s goals of care and best interests.
15. Respect the values and intentions of a patient deemed incompetent as they were expressed previously through advance
care planning discussions when competent, or via a substitute decision-maker.
16. When the specific intentions of an incompetent patient are unknown and in the absence of a formal mechanism for
making treatment decisions, act consistently with the patient’s discernable values and goals of care or, if these are
unknown, act in the patient’s best interests.
17. Respect the patient’s reasonable request for a second opinion from a recognized medical expert.
Physicians and the practice of medicine
Patient privacy and the duty of confidentiality
18. Fulfill your duty of confidentiality to the patient by keeping identifiable patient information confidential; collecting,
using, and disclosing only as much health information as necessary to benefit the patient; and sharing information only
to benefit the patient and within the patient’s circle of care. Exceptions include situations where the informed consent of
the patient has been obtained for disclosure or as provided for by law.
19. Provide the patient or a third party with a copy of their medical record upon the patient’s request, unless there is a
compelling reason to believe that information contained in the record will result in substantial harm to the patient or
20. Recognize and manage privacy requirements within training and practice environments and quality improvement
initiatives, in the context of secondary uses of data for health system management, and when using new technologies in
21. Avoid health care discussions, including in personal, public, or virtual conversations, that could reasonably be seen as
revealing confidential or identifying information or as being disrespectful to patients, their families, or caregivers.
Medical decision-making is ideally a deliberative process that engages the patient in shared decision-making and is informed
by the patient’s experience and values and the physician’s clinical judgment. This deliberation involves discussion with the
patient and, with consent, others central to the patient’s care (families, caregivers, other health professionals) to support
In the process of shared decision-making:
22. Recognize that conflicts of interest may arise as a result of competing roles (such as financial, clinical, research,
organizational, administrative, or leadership).
23. Enter into associations, contracts, and agreements that maintain your professional integrity, consistent with evidenceinformed
decision-making, and safeguard the interests of the patient or public.
24. Avoid, minimize, or manage and always disclose conflicts of interest that arise, or are perceived to arise, as a result of
any professional relationships or transactions in practice, education, and research; avoid using your role as a physician to
promote services (except your own) or products to the patient or public for commercial gain outside of your treatment role.
25. Take reasonable steps to ensure that the patient understands the nature and extent of your responsibility to a third party
when acting on behalf of a third party.
26. Discuss professional fees for non-insured services with the patient and consider their ability to pay in determining fees.
27. When conducting research, inform potential research participants about anything that may give rise to a conflict of
interest, especially the source of funding and any compensation or benefits.
28. Be aware of and promote health and wellness services, and other resources, available to you and colleagues in need.
29. Seek help from colleagues and appropriate medical care from qualified professionals for personal and professional
problems that might adversely affect your health and your services to patients.
30. Cultivate training and practice environments that provide physical and psychological safety and encourage help-seeking
31. Treat your colleagues with dignity and as persons worthy of respect. Colleagues include all learners, health care partners,
and members of the health care team.
32. Engage in respectful communications in all media.
33. Take responsibility for promoting civility, and confronting incivility, within and beyond the profession. Avoid impugning
the reputation of colleagues for personal motives; however, report to the appropriate authority any unprofessional
conduct by colleagues.
34. Assume responsibility for your personal actions and behaviours and espouse behaviours that contribute to a positive
training and practice culture.
35. Promote and enable formal and informal mentorship and leadership opportunities across all levels of training, practice,
and health system delivery.
36. Support interdisciplinary team-based practices; foster team collaboration and a shared accountability for patient care.
Physicians and self
Physicians and colleagues
Managing and minimizing conflicts of interest
38. Recognize that social determinants of health, the environment, and other fundamental considerations that extend
beyond medical practice and health systems are important factors that affect the health of the patient and of
39. Support the profession’s responsibility to act in matters relating to public and population health, health education,
environmental determinants of health, legislation affecting public and population health, and judicial testimony.
40. Support the profession’s responsibility to promote equitable access to health care resources and to promote resource
41. Provide opinions consistent with the current and widely accepted views of the profession when interpreting scientific
knowledge to the public; clearly indicate when you present an opinion that is contrary to the accepted views of the
42. Contribute, where appropriate, to the development of a more cohesive and integrated health system through interprofessional
collaboration and, when possible, collaborative models of care.
43. Commit to collaborative and respectful relationships with Indigenous patients and communities through efforts
to understand and implement the recommendations relevant to health care made in the report of the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
44. Contribute, individually and in collaboration with others, to improving health care services and delivery to address
systemic issues that affect the health of the patient and of populations, with particular attention to disadvantaged,
vulnerable, or underserved communities.
Approved by the CMA Board of Directors Dec 2018
37. Commit to ensuring the quality of medical services offered to patients and society through the establishment and
maintenance of professional standards.
Physicians and society
HEALTH OF ABORIGINAL PEOPLES 2002
A CMA Policy Statement
That the federal government adopt a comprehensive strategy for improving the health of Aboriginal peoples that involves a partnership among governments, non-governmental organizations, universities and the Aboriginal communities.
2) The Need to Address Health Determinants
The health status of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples is a result of a broad range of factors: social, biological, economic, political, educational and environmental. The complexity and interdependence of these health determinants suggest that the health status of Aboriginal peoples is unlikely to be improved significantly by increasing the quantity of health services. Instead, inequities within a wide range of social and economic factors should be addressed; for example:
interactions with the justice system
racism and social marginalization
water supply and waste disposal
housing quality and infrastructure
cultural identity, (for example, long-term effects of the residential school legacy.)
That all stakeholders work to improve provision for the essential needs of Aboriginal peoples and communities that affect their health (e.g. housing, employment, education, water supply).
3) The Importance of Self-Determination
One characteristic of successful Aboriginal communities is a high degree of self-efficacy and control over their own circumstances. This empowerment can take many forms, from developing community-driven health initiatives to determining how to use lands.
It is increasingly recognized that self-determination in cultural, social, political and economic life improves the health of Aboriginal peoples and their communities, and that Aboriginal peoples can best determine their requirements and the solutions to their problems. Therefore, the CMA encourages and supports the Aboriginal peoples in their move toward increasing self-determination and community control. A just and timely settlement of land claims is one means by which Aboriginal communities can achieve this self-determination and self-sufficiency.
That governments and other stakeholders:
Settle land claims and land use issues expeditiously;
Work toward resolving issues of self-determination for Aboriginal peoples and their communities in areas of cultural, social, political and economic life.
4) Community Control of Health Services
Control by Aboriginal peoples of health and social services is increasing across Canada as part of a broader transfer of control of political power, resources and lands. This transfer has not progressed at the same pace across all Aboriginal communities; the needs of Urban Aboriginal peoples, for example, are only beginning to be addressed.
CMA supports the development of community-driven models for delivery of health care and health promotion, responsive to the culture and needs of individual communities. Successful community-driven models of health care delivery generally recognize that the Aboriginal concept of health is holistic in nature, incorporating mental, emotional and spiritual as well as physical components. Translating this concept into practice may involve:
Development of primary care models that are grounded within Aboriginal culture at a local level;
Integration of disease treatment services with health promotion and health education programs, and with traditional healing practices;
Integration of health and social services;
Interprofessional collaboration within a multi-disciplinary team.
CMA also supports programs to increase the involvement of Aboriginal peoples in professional and other decision-making roles affecting the health of their community – for example, increased representation in health-care management positions, and on health facility boards where there is a significant Aboriginal population.
That all stakeholders actively encourage the development of integrated, holistic primary care service delivery relevant to the needs and culture of Aboriginal communities and under community control.
5) Cultural Responsiveness in the Patient/Physician Relationship
As mentioned above, the concept of “health” in Aboriginal culture is holistic and incorporates many components. The concepts of continuity, wholeness and balance within and among people are important to Aboriginal culture, as is a close affinity with the natural environment – both in practical and spiritual senses , which emphasises the importance of stewardship of the land as a component of individual and community health maintenance for present and future generations.
Physicians should work in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples and groups to promote a greater understanding and acceptance of their respective philosophies and approaches. This could include:
an openness and respect for traditional medicine and traditional healing practices (e.g. sweat lodges, herbal medicines, healing circles). This should be balanced with a recognition that not all Aboriginal people, whether First Nation, Métis or Inuit, adhere to or understand their traditional ceremonial practices.
improved cross-cultural awareness in physicians, which could be facilitated by greater contact with their local Aboriginal communities, better understanding of local Aboriginal cultures, history and current setting,
development of cross-cultural patient-physician communication skills.
a) That educational initiatives in cross-cultural awareness of Aboriginal health issues be developed for the Canadian population, and in particular for health care providers,
b) that practice tools and resources be developed to support physicians (Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal) and other health care professionals practicing in Aboriginal communities.
6) Access to Health Services
Canada is often considered to have one of the best health care systems in the world and is typically described as providing “universal access”. However, our system does not provide equal access to services for all people living in Canada – the most underserviced being those in northern Canada, which contains many Aboriginal communities.
Several kinds of access problems exist in Aboriginal communities:
Lack of access to employment, adequate housing, nutritious food, clean water and other social or economic determinants of health.
Factors that impede access to health care services, particularly in remote locations; for example, language and cultural differences, and the difficulty of transporting patients to tertiary centres.
Lack of specific services (for example, mental health services) for Aboriginal peoples in many regions of Canada. Specific groups, such as women and the elderly, have unique and distinct needs that should be addressed.
Program delivery that involves multiple federal, provincial and municipal funding agencies. Physicians and patients alike have trouble obtaining information about and entry into existing programs and funding for new programs because of jurisdictional confusion.
CMA has previously recommended that the Canadian health system develop and apply agreed-upon standards for timely access to care. This includes the need to increase timely and appropriate access by Aboriginal peoples to health care and health promotion services, geared to different segments of the population according to their needs.
a) That governments and other stakeholders simplify and clarify jurisdictional responsibilities with respect to Aboriginal health at the federal, provincial and municipal level, with a goal of simplifying access to service delivery.
b) That strategies be explored to increase access to health services by remote communities; for example, through the use of technology (e.g. Web sites, telemedicine) to connect them with academic medical centres.
7) Health Human Resources
There is an urgent need to increase the training, recruitment and retention of Aboriginal health care providers. The 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recommended that a cadre of 10,000 Aboriginal health care and social service workers be trained to meet the needs of a complex and diverse community. While progress has been made in recent years, an intensive focus on recruitment, training and retention is required in order to achieve this goal.
A comprehensive health human resource strategy should be developed, to increase the recruitment, training and retention of Aboriginal students in medicine and other health disciplines. Such a strategy could include:
Outreach programs to interest Aboriginal young people in the health sciences.
Access and support programs for Aboriginal medical students.
Residency positions for recently graduated Aboriginal physicians or physicians wishing to practice in Aboriginal populations, including re-entry positions for physicians currently in practice.
Mentoring and leadership-development programs for Aboriginal medical students, residents and physicians.
Programs to counter racism and discrimination in the health-care system.
Initiatives to recruit and train Community Health Representatives/ Workers, birth attendants and other para-professionals within Aboriginal communities.
a) That CMA and others work to develop a health human resource strategy aimed at improving the recruitment, training, retention of Aboriginal physicians and other health-care workers;
b) That medical and other health faculties increase access and support programs to encourage enrollment of Aboriginal students.
8) Health Information
Information about the health status and health care experience of Aboriginal peoples, is essential for future planning and advocacy. For Aboriginal peoples to effectively develop self-determination in health care delivery, they should have access to data that can be converted into useful information on their population. The “OCAP” principle (ownership, control, access to and possession of health data) is seen as integral to First Nation community empowerment, but may prove acceptable to other Aboriginal groups as well.
A considerable amount of data currently exists, though there are gaps in coverage, particularly regarding Métis, Inuit and urban and rural off-reserve First Nations populations. This data can come from a variety of federal and provincial/territorial sources, including periodic surveys, federal censuses, Aboriginal Peoples Survey data holdings, and also regional physician and hospital utilization statistics. However, jurisdictional and ownership issues have hindered Aboriginal people from accessing and making use of this data.
CMA supports the development and maintenance of mechanisms to systematically collect and analyze longitudinal health information for Aboriginal people, and the removal of barriers that prevent Aboriginal organizations from fully accessing information in government databases. Aboriginal health information should be subject to guarantees of privacy and confidentiality. The CMA urges relevant government departments to ensure that revisions to the Indian Act do not infringe on the privacy of health information of Aboriginal peoples in Canada.
That the Government of Canada support the First Nations and Inuit Regional Longitudinal Health Survey Process, and the First Nations and Inuit Health Information System, and parallel interests for the Métis and Inuit. These programs should be operated under the control of their respective Aboriginal communities
The CMA supports culturally relevant research into the determinants of Aboriginal health and effective treatment and health-promotion strategies to address them. Specifically, the CMA supports the efforts of the Institute of Aboriginal Peoples’ Health at the Canadian Institute for Health Research, in addressing the needs of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples.
Aboriginal peoples should be involved in research design, data collection and analysis; research should support the communities as they build capacity and develop initiatives to address their health needs. Ideally, research should address not only determinants of ill health but also the reasons for positive health outcomes.
The CMA also acknowledges the need to communicate research results to Aboriginal communities to help them develop and evaluate health programs. In particular there is an urgent need among Aboriginal communities for the sharing of successes.
That government and other stakeholders
Support Aboriginal peoples and communities in the development of Aboriginal research and the means of interpreting its findings.
Make public communication of health research results a priority in order to facilitate its use by Aboriginal communities.
CMA’S CONTINUED COMMITMENT
The Canadian Medical Association, consistent with its mandate to advocate for the highest standards of health and health care in Canada, will continue to work with the Aboriginal community and other stakeholders on activities addressing the following issue areas:
Research and Practice Enhancement:.
Public and Community Health Programming:.
Advocacy for healthy public policy.
November 15, 2002