Canadian Medical Association

How do you navigate conflicts of interest caused by your competing roles or duties? How should you interact with industry? Should you share a patient’s HIV diagnosis with their spouse or partner? What principles guide the protection of patient privacy? What are the ethical considerations for physicians during a pandemic? Medicine is fraught with questions like these, and every physician grapples with ethical challenges during his or her career. How you approach these challenges matters. Acting through a process of inquiry, reflection and decision-making is the foundation of the ethical practice of medicine and impacts the patient-physician relationship. 

The CMA develops policies on key medical and bioethical issues you may face in your practice. We consult with medical professionals and Canadians to ensure these reflect the current medical landscape and the evolving role of physicians.

Questions? Comments?

We’re happy to field any questions or comments you have about the CMA’s work in ethics and medical professionalism. Please direct any correspondence to [email protected].

CMA Committee on Ethics

Our Committee on Ethics supports the CMA and physicians in Canada with advice and recommendations on medical ethical and bioethical issues.

Equity and diversity in medicine

The CMA has developed a policy to promote increased equity and diversity in medicine and to foster a more collaborative and respectful professional culture. The CMA also has a statement on racism to reinforce this policy.

In September and October 2020, the CMA conducted a series of roundtables with physicians and medical learners who are affected by and committed to addressing discrimination in the profession. Read the summary report on these roundtables.

Code of Ethics and Professionalism

The CMA Code of Ethics and Professionalism provides standards of ethical practice to help physicians fulfill their obligation to provide the highest standard of care and to foster patient and public trust in physicians and the profession. It outlines responsibilities in key areas of medical practice, including the patient-physician relationship, conflicts of interest, patient privacy, the duty of confidentiality, and more.

Code of Ethics and Professionalism

“Ethics is about what we ought to do, and professionalism is how we go out and do that. There is a very close relationship between the Code and the life of our profession.”

Dr. Ross Upshur
Physician and professor, University of Toronto

Updating the Code

The original Code dates back to 1868 and is one of the profession’s most important documents. We update it regularly to reflect the current realities of medical practice.

Phase 1

January 2016: Our strategic initiative focused on medical professionalism begins

October 2016: More than 1,000 Canadians respond to CMA surveys on medical professionalism, which reveal a decreased perception of physicians as trustworthy and compassionate

November 2016: We host a thought leaders forum on medical professionalism in Ottawa

December 2016: We set out to revise our Code of Ethics to reaffirm the values of the profession and account for the evolving medical landscape and role of physicians

Phase 2

January to March 2017: Analysis of other national and international medical Codes of Ethics, thematic analysis of all previous CMA Codes of Ethics, and analysis of the distinction and relationship between ethics and professionalism inform our revision process

March 2017: The CMA Code of Ethics Revision Task Force forms to lead the project

March to June 2017: A series of CMA members forums examines pertinent challenges facing the profession, including loss of public trust and lack of shared purpose, identity and common values

September to December 2017: Our information- and perspective-gathering efforts continue with key informant interviews, data syntheses and a joint meeting between the Committee on Ethics and the Code of Ethics Revision Task Force

December 2017: The CMA Charter of Shared Values for physicians becomes available, championing respect, integrity, reciprocity and civility

Phase 3

January to March 2018: We draft the new CMA Code of Ethics and Professionalism based on information and feedback gathered to date

March to November 2018: Physicians, patients and the public give us feedback on our draft through surveys, webinars, face-to-face meetings, and hundreds of emails and conversations

“This should be a conversation that engages the whole membership; each physician has a slightly different practice and patient population and we all need to have the opportunity to best represent our patients and ensure their needs are met.”

Dr. Julie Richer
Member, CMA Code of Ethics Revision Task Force and Committee on Ethics

Charter of Shared Values

What values should we aspire to as medical professionals? What are our commitments to our colleagues and our profession? The CMA Charter of Shared Values answers these questions, based on consultations with hundreds of CMA members, online and in person.

Charter of Shared Values

Our policy work

These are just a few of the policies we’ve published that touch on important ethical issues relevant to medical practice. Visit the CMA PolicyBase for the full list.

Organ and tissue donation and transplantation

Medical advances have dramatically increased the rates of organ and tissue transplant success. But some also raise ethical issues for physicians, service providers, policy-makers and other system stakeholders. This CMA policy offers guidance on such issues, based on general and professional ethical principles.

Learn more about Organ and tissue donation and transplantation

Direct-to-consumer genetic testing

Private companies now offer consumer genetic testing services over the Internet. This direct-to-consumer testing is vastly different from clinical genetic testing by health care providers. Our policy explores the ethical issues surrounding this practice and clarifies the role of physicians and governments.

Learn more about Direct-to-consumer genetic testing

Guidelines for physicians in interactions with industry

Physicians often collaborate with the pharmaceutical and health supply industries for research, education and other purposes. These can present conflicts of interest at odds with physicians’ primary duty to patients and society. The guidelines included in this policy can help you determine what type of relationship with industry is appropriate.

Learn more about Guidelines for physicians in interactions with industry

Ethical decision-making and the Coronavirus pandemic

The medical community is facing unprecedented ethical challenges as a result of COVID-19. Our framework is intended to assist physicians in the difficult decision-making process during the pandemic, in cases where there are insufficient critical care resources to meet demand.

Learn more about Ethical decision-making and the Coronavirus pandemic
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