On Saturday, incoming World Medical Association (WMA) President Dr. Leonid Eidelman plagiarized Queen’s professor Dr. Chris Simpson in his inaugural speech.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) released a statement severing ties with WMA this Monday, citing the “serious ethical breach” of a copied speech.
It was a “surreal” experience, according to Simpson, vice-dean of Queen’s School of Medicine and a former CMA president. He was in a conference room in Reykjavik, Iceland, when Eidelman’s inaugural speech started sounding suspicious.
“When he used the term social contract, that’s a very Canadian term in the medical context, and I thought, ‘Oh that’s weird,’” Simpson told The Journal in a phone interview.
“It really hit me was when he began one fairly long paragraph. I knew immediately it was word for word from my inaugural speech in 2014,” Simpson said. “Right down to the punctuation.”
Simpson turned to the person beside him, and said “that’s my speech” before speaking simultaneously with Eidelman’s address.
In a statement announcing its withdrawal from the international organization, the CMA wrote it’s “taking a stand” against Eidelman’s plagiarism.
“As an organization that holds itself as the arbiter of medical ethics at the global level, the WMA has failed to uphold its own standards,” CMA President Dr. Gigi Osler wrote in a statement. “The CMA cannot, in all good conscience, continue to be a member of such an organization.”
Founded in 1947, the WMA describes itself as an “independent confederation of free professional medical associations” which have committed to upholding the medical ethics of physicians.
Simpson felt the conference—which was focused on medical ethics—should have held Eidelman to a higher standard.
“As you know in the academic community, we take plagiarism very seriously. We hold our students to a higher standard, they can be dismissed [from university] for plagiarising,” he said.
After Eidelman’s address, the Canadian delegation compared the speeches. They concluded Eidelman hadn’t only plagiarized Simpson’s 2014 speech, but also plagiarized from other sources without attribution or recognition.
“It became pretty clear that a substantial part—probably even most of his speech—was directly plagiarized from other sources,” Simpson said.
In addition to the CMA’s withdrawal, Simpson, with the support of Osler, also demanded Eidelman’s resignation in response to the incident.
To review Simpson’s allegations, WMA council went into a private session to consider the Canadian delegation’s request. “The council, when they studied it, found as a matter of fact that plagiarism had occurred. But the motion for him to step down didn’t pass,” Simpson said.
The result of the vote was “difficult to understand,” he added.
Later, Eidelman apologized for his actions in front of the general assembly. The Canadian delegation didn’t stick around to watch.
“For the head of an international body that’s all about medical ethics, to go completely unsanctioned, was clearly over a line for us,” Simpson said.
As an educator, Simpson said it would be “hypocritical” of him to return to his students having left Eidelman off the hook for plagiarism.
In a statement, Osler said the CMA will turn its “attention and energy” to other ways it can participate in international initiatives.
In the coming weeks, Simpson said the CMA plans to hold a board meeting to determine the organization’s next actions and review the issue of Eidelman’s plagiarism. Simpson added he’ll also be speaking at the meeting.
Simpson’s outlook for the CMA is optimistic. “There are a lot of practical international collaborations that can happen outside of the formality of the WMA,” he said.
“We’ll continue to be very active on the international stage, but exactly what forms that will take, I’ll leave to our board to decide.”
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