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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
“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.
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
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
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.
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.about Organ and tissue donation and transplantation
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome
Ethical challenges can arise when physicians treat patients living with HIV or AIDS, including whether to divulge a positive status to a patient’s spouse or partner. Our policy clarifies physicians’ ethical responsibilities in this aspect and others related to HIV.about Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome
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.about Direct-to-consumer genetic testing
Assisted human reproduction, like any other medical procedures, has the potential to both benefit and harm. This CMA policy outlines the objectives of regulatory regimes and includes principles to guide decision-makers in developing regulations for assisted reproduction in Canada.about Assisted reproduction
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.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.about Ethical decision-making and the Coronavirus pandemic
Driving meaningful change in health care
Advocating on issues that matter to the profession and their patients
Prescribing medication is a key part of many physicians’ practice. Yet the high cost of prescription drugs can make them inaccessible to many Canadians. For more than three decades, the CMA has been a strong advocate for affordable prescription medications.
With cannabis use now legal in Canada, we continue to advocate for a science-based, public health approach to the substance — and actively support physicians with information and resources about cannabis use for medical purposes.