The new possibilities created by advances in medicine frequently raise ethical questions. In contrast to developing legislation, which is a time-consuming process, medical-ethical guidelines can be developed relatively rapidly by the Central Ethics Committee of the SAMS. These offer practical guidance to physicians and other health professionals engaged in clinical practice and biomedical research.
The Central Ethics Committee (CEC) of the SAMS identifies and discusses ethical problems in medicine and develops practical guidance. To prepare guidelines, the CEC appoints subcommittees comprised of carefully selected experts who follow clearly defined procedures. These include, for example, expert hearings and consultations, a public consultation, and approval by the CEC, Executive Board and Senate of the SAMS.
All current guidelines can be downloaded under Publications. Print versions in French and German can be ordered free of charge. Guidelines that are no longer applicable are available in the online archive. Information on guidelines in preparation can be found below.
Legal framework and legitimacy of the guidelines
Many SAMS guidelines concern topics that directly affect fundamental rights. Some legal experts criticize this process, stating that a foundation should not “set standards” under private law. However, the SAMS stresses that guidelines never serve to replace a legislative process. Rather, they act as «precursors» to legislation or as a «guide» for medical practice.
In addition, the question of the legitimacy of SAMS guidelines has gained public attention in recent years due to controversial topics such as assisted suicide, coercive measures in medicine and triage decisions under exceptional resource scarcity. The SAMS has commissioned a legal mandate to reflect on these issues in depth. The findings will be reported in autumn 2024.
Prof. Dr. iur. Franziska Sprecher, Bern
Prof. Paul Hoff, Zollikon, President CEC, direction
Sibylle Ackermann, SAMS, ex officio
Susanne Brauer, PhD, Zürich, member CEC, ethics
Prof. Mio Filipovic, St. Gallen, member Executive Board SAMW, medicine
Prof. Thomas Gächter, Zürich, law
Dr. Damian König, Sion, member CEC, law
On the history of the guidelines
The SAMS published its first medical-ethical guidelines in 1969. They dealt with the «diagnosis» of brain death and followed the first heart transplant. These SAMS guidelines are a good example of the Academy’s guidelines-related activities in its early days. The following article describes these activities and subsequent developments in detail.
Since 2019, the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) has funded the research project Governing by Values: Zur Geschichte der Medizin- und Bioethik in der Schweiz, which sheds light on the role of the SAMS and the medical-ethical guidelines, among other topics. First results can be found in the focus article in the SAMS Bulletin 4/2023:
Case studies on guidelines