WONCA Working Party: Ethical Issues

Ethical Issues

In 2002, the terms of reference for the SIG On Ethics were agreed as “to attempt to elucidate the nature of ethical issues encountered by WONCA and its members (both organizations and individuals) and to explore the principles, values and beliefs which inform decisions.”

Building on this, the WONCA Working Party on Ethics in Primary Care will be devoted to encouraging the maintenance of the highest ethical standards in practice, education and research in Primary Care. This will be accomplished through promoting widespread dialogue within the profession, initiating and supporting research, and disseminating information throughout the WONCA community, the international academic community, healthcare organisations, and government agencies.

Convenor / Chair

Dr Tania Moerenhout (Belgium)

Email Chair

Tania Moerenhout (1982) graduated with an MD degree at the University of Brussels (VUB), Belgium, in 2007 and an additional Master’s in Family Medicine in 2009. While practising medicine, she developed an interest in philosophy, leading to a Master’s degree in Philosophy from the same university in 2015. In her Master’s thesis, she examined the question of whether e-health may cause a revolution or paradigm shift in medicine. In 2019 she completed a PhD in Philosophy at the University of Ghent, still in a part-time position combined with clinical work. This project focused on ethical challenges and questions that may arise with electronic health records and patient portal use. Important ethical topics were autonomy, responsibility, empowerment and other aspects of the patient-doctor relationship. In 2016-2017, she spent a year as a Visiting Researcher at the Center for Bioethics and Health Law, University of Pittsburgh, USA. There, she focused on the qualitative part of her PhD project.

In 2020, she moved to Aotearoa, New Zealand, to serve as Lecturer at the Bioethics Centre of the University of Otago in Dunedin. She combines academic work with a clinical position as GP at Broadway Medical Centre. Her current research interests remain in the broad field of digital health ethics. She focuses on three topics: remote monitoring technology in older adults’ care, the ethics of virtual consultation services and telehealth, and ethical technology assessment.
Tania is Chair of the WONCA Working Party on Ethical Issues and a member of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities (ASBH). 

Co-Convenor or other office bearers

Executive Members

  • Peter Taiwo Sogunia (Nigeria) – Africa
  • TBD – Asia Pacific
  • Amal Al Ali (Qatar) – East Mediterranean
  • Issam Shaarani (Lebanon) - East Mediterranean
  • Ignaas Devish (Belgium) – Europe
  • Carmen Nadal Agost (Chile)  Iberoamericana – CIMF
  • Ross Upshur (Canada) – North America
  • M. Tariq Aziz (Pakistan) – South Asia

Vision and Mission of WONCA Working Party on Ethical Issues

Aims of the WONCA Working Party on Ethical issues

  1. Development of a core curriculum on medical ethics on behalf of WONCA to be implemented in curricula for basic medical education worldwide (in cooperation with EURACT and the WP on Education) 
  2. Preparation of a core curriculum for trainers and faculty on how to teach ethics at all three levels of medical education.
  3. Development of a statement on the ethics of teaching in the primary care setting.
  4. Development of an instrument to assess professional attitudes of students and trainees which can be used by medical schools or colleges.
  5. Compilation of a brochure with difficult situations as they occur in the daily practice of GPs challenging their professional attitudes. This brochure could be used as a source for teaching purposes globally.
  6. Publication of selected dilemmas and analyses of ethical issues in respected journals.
  7. Preparations of recommendations for WONCA on relevant topics such as industry relationships or sponsorships.

Objectives of the WONCA Working Party on Ethical Issues

  • Continue existing activities
  • Formation of an executive group of colleagues among the list of interested members
  • Develop and implement a Website
  • Start working on the compilation of ethical dilemmas.
  • Start working on the core curricula for trainers and trainees

Publications & Documents


Activties 2018-19

Activity 1 - Structuring the WP on Ethical Issues

This activity aims at establishing an executive board (EB) for the working party in which all WONCA regions are represented. All WONCA members who have academic involvement and interest in working on Ethical Issues can be involved. This board will meet (online or physically) on regular basis.

What has been achieved so far?
1. Executive board members from some regions started working actively on the regional level. This is reflected in the WP workshops that are planned to be executed in three different regions in the coming few months (details below). The Ethics WP executive board members
Africa - Dr Peter Taiwo Sogunle - Nigeria
Asia Pacific - Dr John Fatiaki - Fiji
East Mediterranean - Dr Amal Al Ali - Qatar
Europe - Dr Tania Moerenhout - Belgium
North America - Dr Ross Upshur - Canada
South Asia - Dr M. Tariq Aziz - Pakistan
Iberoamericana-CIMF Pending

Activity 2 - Enhancing Connectivity

This activity aims at establishing an adequate connection between the WP and WONCA members and extending the reach of the WP recommendations and outputs to the largest number of practicing Family Physicians.

What has been achieved so far?

1. Facebook and Twitter pages were created
a. Facebook page link www.facebook.com/EthicsWP (page reached around 700 members)
b. Twitter account @EthicsWP

Activity 3 Workshops and Educational Material

The Ethics WP board is involved in planning the appropriate workshops and activities in the upcoming conferences. The goal would be to create and adopt a curriculum for ethics to be used in the undergraduate and postgraduate Family Medicine training.

What has been achieved so far?
This year, four workshops for the WP have been done. These are:
- 1. Ethical Considerations of Physicians’ Involvement with Politics, WONCA World, Seoul. Presented by Dr. Issam Shaarani
- 2. Providing Primary Healthcare for the Underprivileged: Ethical Perspectives, WONCA EMR, Beirut, Lebanon (a collaborative workshop between the WP and The Salim El-Hoss Bioethics and Professionalism Program (SHBPP) ) Presented by Dr. Issam Shaarani
- 3. Ethical Issues associated with Traditional Medicine in Africa, WONCA Africa, Kampala, Uganda. Presented by Dr. Taiwo Sogunle and Dr. Shabir Moussa
- 4. Ethical Challenges of Sharing Information through Electronic Health Records, WONCA Europe, Bratislava, Slovakia. Presented by Dr. Tania Morenhout


History of the Working Party on Ethical issues

At the WONCA Europe Conference 2000 in Vienna, Austria, the programme contained a special symposium entitled Challenges to our Professional attitudes. This full day symposium covered areas and time periods from the past to the present time where the medical profession in general or individual colleagues in particular have been or were involved in developments based on unique political situations: the Holocaust in Europe, the Apartheid in South Africa, torture of prisoners in areas of war, or the death penalty in the United States. Experts and eyewitnesses of these developments gave stunning insight into the circumstances how physicians could get involved and sometimes were even eager to get involved. 

This symposium attracted a full auditorium and it was Prof Lotte Newman, the former chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners and the former president of SIMG/ WONCA Europe who suggested that a Special Interest Group (SIG) on ethical issues in General Practice/Family Medicine be founded. This suggestion was picked up by the WONCA World executive and Prof Lotte Newman and Prof Manfred Maier were appointed convenors of this newly founded WONCA interest group. 

The world conference 2001 in Durban, South Africa, was used to build a list of colleagues interested in participating actively in this new Special Interest Group. In 2002, at the occasion of the WONCA Europe conference, in London, the group gathered to formulate the terms of reference: “to attempt to illustrate the nature of ethical issues encountered by WONCA and its members and to explore the principles, values and beliefs which inform decisions”.

Since then, the proceedings of the special symposium from WONCA Europe Vienna 2000 were published. The list of interested colleagues increases continuously and the group has tried to identify GP working groups on ethical issues around the globe. In addition, the group has reviewed the teaching situation for professional attitudes worldwide, has introduced a forum for discussion of ethical issues and tries to motivate colleagues to initiate similar activities back home in their association or home country. These activities are promoted at almost every WONCA Europe conference and all WONCA world conferences by organizing a special symposium on selected topics such as inequities in health, conflicts of interests, end of life care, etc. So far, the activities of the group, which became a Working Party at the WONCA world conference 2010, in Cancun, Mexico, usually attract an interested crowd. After the retirement of Prof Lotte Newman, Prof Micky Weingarten from Israel jumped in and was a tremendous help in every way to keep the Working Party running and to make it attractive for colleagues globally.

Relevant Resources