Europe's new ethics code may lack teeth

2013 05 08 08 38 21 556 Ethics 200

The European Society of Radiology (ESR) has issued its eagerly anticipated code of ethics, but concerns have emerged about the possible lack of available disciplinary measures necessary to enforce it.

As part of a drive to raise standards and boost transparency and accountability, the Ethical Compliance subcommittee of the ESR's Professional Organization Committee (POC) has drawn up a three-page code for radiologists. The plan is for it to be a "living document" that will be continuously updated according to the development of the profession.

"Until now, the ESR being a young society had not produced such a document, which presents the guidelines on the behavior that is expected from ESR members and officers," noted Dr. Yves Menu, past chairman of the POC, in the society's latest annual report. "The first part consists of the ethical principles; the second is about the rules; and the third about disciplinary procedures resulting from noncompliance. Since the ESR is an inter­national organization, the only disciplinary measure that could be applied is termination of ESR membership, while other disciplinary procedures remain the responsibility of national authorities."

The code seems to be necessary to strengthen the self-conception of the radiologist, who is working in the stressful area between the physician treating the patient, the patients themselves, and the healthcare system, according to members of the relevant ESR committee, who were assisted by a medical ethicist.

The new set of ethical principles and professional responsibilities is designed to guide radiologists' conduct in their relationships with patients, colleagues, employers, industry, authorities, and society. While the main focus must be the welfare of the individual patient, physicians must be aware that the interrelationships inherent in a healthcare system make it impossible to separate actions taken on behalf of individual patients from the overall performance of the system and its impact on society, the authors stated in the introduction.

"Radiologists' responsibilities are not limited to what the law requires. This ethical code does not represent a set of laws but an ethical framework that aims to guide radiologists towards the highest standard of professional conduct," they noted.

The document forms part of a strategy to make the ESR a fully transparent society with regard to education, science, and management, which is really important when looking for accreditation of scientific events or when discussing political issues with any organization, according to Menu.

Starting with ECR 2013, scientific presenters at the annual congress are now asked to fill in disclosure forms, and in scientific papers, their links with industry now have to be fully clarified; these links do not disqualify their scientific work, but only provides transparency, he added. Presenters are also asked if their work has been accepted by an ethical board, or if such acceptance was deemed unnecessary.

In addition, a disclosure form has been designed for ESR officers. Anybody who speaks and works on behalf of the ESR must agree to disclose any link (personal or familial) with an organization that could be in potential conflict with their work within the ESR.

To access the ethics code, click here.

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