The World Medical Association said that doctors should ensure that patients had a "free and informed" choice about donating organs where possible.
As some countries move to a system of taking organs automatically from newly deceased patients - so-called "presumed consent" - the WMA, meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK, said that patients should retain the right to refuse to donate.
Policies should not detract from efforts to ensure that patients were able to make their own informed choices. In turn, doctors' first obligation was to patients, not to family members, a WMA statement said. All countries should have "comprehensive, co-ordinated" national strategies on the issue, it went on to say.
Meanwhile the new science of xenotransplantation - animal to human transplants - raised special issues, the WMA said. It called for extensive public debate and international guidelines. It also urged caution on transplants of brain cells and reproductive organs - calling for more scientific work and public debate on the matter.
The WMA also adopted a new version of the policy that governs the ethics of medical research, the Declaration of Helsinki. The declaration aims to ban researchers from using poor countries as "test-tubes" for new treatments which then prove to be too expensive for the local patients at the end of the research. The Declaration says that patients who take part in such research should be guaranteed continuing treatment after the project is over. It also calls on researchers to ensure that the treatments become widely available in such countries.
WMA secretary general Dr Delon Human said: "The WMA's main objective is to serve and protect our patients, especially those who are involved in potentially harmful research projects. At the same time we applaud and encourage the use of ethical research to find new ways to cure disease."
Report Copyright: Englemed Health News at http://www.internationalmedicalnews.com