China’s opposition to Taiwan’s role in the WHO

This post was written by guest blogger Dan Bloom, who describes himself as “an American freelance writer who has lived in Taiwan
since 1996.” These opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of Richard TPD.

Keeping Taiwan out of the WHO health
assembly violates Hippocratic Oath

By Dan Bloom

When young men and women around the world studying to be doctors
complete their medical training, they take what is called the
Hippocratic Oath, promising to do their best to serve patients, male
and female, young and old, with care and understanding. Hippocrates
was a physician who lived in Greece more than 2,000 years ago, and his
oath, his words for doctors to live by, live on today.
Doctors across the globe live and work by the Hippocratic Oath, and
every doctor who lives in a country that is a member of the World
Health Organization (WHO) swears to uphold the declarations in this
ancient text, regardless of political affiliation or ideology.

“I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in
whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with
those who are to follow,” states a modern version of the Hippocratic
Oath, written in 1964 by a doctor at the prestigious School of
Medicine at Tufts University in Boston. “I will not be ashamed to say
`I know not,’ nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills
of another are needed for a patient’s recovery. In addition, I will
try to prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to
cure. I will also remember that I remain a member of society, with
special obligations to all my fellow human beings.”

In addition to the time-honored Hippocratic Oath, the General Assembly
of the World Medical Association at Geneva in 1948 published a global
declaration of a doctor’s dedication to the humanitarian goals of the
medical profession. This Declaration of Geneva was intended to update
the Oath of Hippocrates, and states in part, “As a member of the
medical profession, I solemnly pledge myself to consecrate my life to
the service of humanity.”

In addition, the Declaration of Geneva notably proclaims: “I will not
permit consideration of religion, nationality, race, party, politics
or social standing to intervene between my duty and my patients.”

Every professional doctor in China knows and understands what the
Hippocratic Oath and the Declaration of Geneva are all about. For the
leaders of their country to stand in opposition to Taiwan joining the
WHO as “a health entity with observer status,” as Taiwan’s government
has requested, is a slap in the face to both an honored, ancient oath
and a modern, principled declaration.

As Professor Dennis Hickey, a friend of Taiwan at Southwest Missouri
State University, has noted, Taiwan’s participation in the WHO may not
be a panacea or a magic bullet for the WHO’s efforts in future SARS or
bird-flu epidemic prevention, but it will help considerably. For
doctors in China to continue to support their government’s practice of
“health apartheid” against Taiwan is unconscionable.

Doctors are doctors, regardless of ideology or ethnic background. A
doctor in Taiwan takes the same Hippocratic Oath and follows the same
Declaration of Geneva as a doctor in China does, and it is time for
every doctor in China to stand up for the right of doctors and health
professionals in Taiwan to become “observers” in the WHO.

To refuse to recognize the right of Taiwan to have observer status in
the WHO is to reject the Hippocratic Oath and all that it stands for.

The next flu epidemic is inevitable, as Klaus Stohr, a WHO influenza
expert, stated at an international press conference in Thailand last
year. Stohr noted dramatically that a future flu pandemic could cause
the deaths of an estimated 4 million people worldwide. Other medical
experts, among them Shigeru Omi, the regional director of the WHO’s
Western Pacific Office, suggest that more than 10 million or 20
million deaths may result, and perhaps as many as 100 million.

For doctors in China to say nothing in favor of Taiwan’s WHO observer
status in the face of this global threat is a sad commentary on that
country’s narrow-minded, selfish and unethical state of mind. Before
the next pandemic occurs, it is time for China to put geopolitics
aside and allow Taiwan to enjoy WHO observer status. It would be a
professional courtesy that is long overdue.

Influential medical and health professionals around the world agree
that Taiwan’s exclusion from the WHO as an observer represents a
serious threat both to the health of the Taiwanese people and to the
global community in the 21st century.

And, as has been suggested many times by health professionals
supportive of Taiwan’s international status, the steering committee of
the World Health Assembly should call an emergency meeting and accede
to Taiwan’s request to participate as an assembly observer. This must
be done now. Not next year, not in five years’ time, not in 10 years’

The Hippocratic Oath and the Declaration of Geneva demand it.

The Discussion: 5 Comments

Another typical of western thinking. Chinese doctors do not take Hippocratic oath on graduation. It means nothing to them.

January 14, 2005 @ 7:58 pm | Comment

Well, I guess Beijing is not against Taiwan participate in WHO. It just requires that Tainwan be included in his delegation.

Beijing can argue the same way: Yes, The Hippocratic Oath and the Declaration of Geneva demand Taiwan to be in WHO, as part of China. Taiwan put Taiwan people in danger because of politics.

Using politics to argue taking politics out of WHO is pretty stupid.

January 15, 2005 @ 8:36 am | Comment

We all know Beijing is shameless. Yes, they could have argued this way, and humiliated Taiwan further. In fact they did.

January 15, 2005 @ 6:48 pm | Comment

My knowledge of Chinese history is limited to the first 80 years of the 1900s, and I’m very slowly trying to catch up on the last 15 years, so I’ll accept it completely if I’m wrong: is it possible that the doctors in China are afraid to speak out? We’re talking about a government that ran students over with tanks, they do seem pretty vicious. If the doctors in China spoke out and were punished in any way, wouldn’t that limit their ability to fulfill the Hippocratic Oath, in that they’d be unable to help anyone? [ Or unable to help as many as before ]. Of course, if the doctors were able to speak out without fear of retaliation and chose not to, that would be unconscionable.

January 17, 2005 @ 5:13 am | Comment

“Another typical of western thinking. Chinese doctors do not take Hippocratic oath on graduation. It means nothing to them.“

I don’t think that is completely accurate. As far as I konw of, med schoo grads are required to take Hippocratic Oath. And I do know quite a few Chinese doctors, either in China or in the States, are dead serious about it.

I’m not familiar with this whole WHO issue, but would the United States be comfortable if Hawaii or Florida became an observer?

I’m starting to think that it might not be an issue of whether the doctors in China dare to speak up or not, but a matter of if they would feel uncomfotable at all.

After all, how does it hurt the Taiwan people, or anyone for that matter, if the docs from Taiwan weren’t allowe to become WHO observers? They can still save lives in Taiwan or anywhere else around the globe, can’t they?

Well, I’m getting a little confused here. What was the problem again?

January 17, 2005 @ 6:17 pm | Comment

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