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Canada Canadian doctors quit World Medical Association over plagiarism allegations

A group of Canadian doctors has quit a global medical body after the organization’s newly appointed head plagiarized parts of his inaugural speech.

The dispute between the Canadian Medical Association and the World Medical Association (WMA) erupted at a Reykjavik conference for the WMA this weekend, highlighting a divide among professionals on how to deal with a peer accused of passing off the work of others as his own.

The newly appointed president of the global medical umbrella group gave a speech about how the world’s doctors are being burdened with too much to do. “Physician burnout is a symptom of a larger problem − a health-care system that increasingly overworks doctors and undervalues their health needs,” said Leonid Eidelman of Israel.

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In this 2014 file photo, Israeli Medical Association president Dr. Leonid Eidelman speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at his office in Ramat Gan, Israel.

Dan Balilty

But shortly after his Friday night speech, Dr. Eidelman was accused of wrongdoing by a delegation of Canadian doctors, including a physician who alleged that his own work had been improperly borrowed.

“I suddenly heard very familiar words, and I turned to one of my colleagues next to me and said ‘This is my speech!’ ” said Dr. Chris Simpson of Kingston, Ont. Speaking in a telephone interview from Iceland, he added that “I was then able to speak simultaneously along with him. It was just surreal − there is no other word for it.”

Dr. Simpson said the offending passage was taken from an address that he gave in 2014, the year he served as the head of the Canadian association, which posts such speeches online.

After the speech, Dr. Simpson and the other members of the Canadian delegation huddled over a computer at the restaurant of a Hilton hotel. They used Google to identify what they said were other plagiarized passages in Dr. Eidelman’s speech.

The Canadian doctors felt the breach was serious. On Saturday, they urged their colleagues at the WMA to remove Dr. Eidelman as head of the organization.

“If you’re a university student and caught plagiarizing, there are consequences,” said Gigi Osler, the Winnipeg-based doctor who now heads the Canadian association. In an interview, Dr. Osler added that “there are those who consider plagiarism fraud" or even "the theft of intellectual property.”

Yet, most of the delegates from other countries did not see it that way, and voted down a Canadian proposal to remove Dr. Eidelman.

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In response, the Canadian delegates walked out of the conference and quit the umbrella group entirely.

“We felt we must take a stand for honesty and integrity,” Dr. Osler said.

The Canadian doctors spent the balance of the weekend sight-seeing, including travelling by bus to visit an Icelandic glacier.

The fact of plagiarism is not contested.

This weekend, the WMA put out its own statement saying, “we very much regret Canada’s decision” while confirming the substance of the violations. “Dr. Leonid Eidelman did not attribute several passages to the original authors,” the statement said.

A spokesman for the group said that its new president was not aware that his speech was plagiarized because he had used speechwriters and that most doctors present at the conference “accepted his apology" for the error.

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The Globe and Mail e-mailed and phoned Dr. Eidelman on Sunday but was not successful in reaching him.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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