ESC Suspension of Russia, Belarus Societies Sparks Controversy

March 08, 2022

The European Society of Cardiology has temporarily suspended membership of the cardiology societies in Russia and Belarus, provoking a heated discussion on whether medical organizations should become involved in politics.

"In the light of the continued aggression against Ukraine by the leaderships of the Russian Federation and Belarus, the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) has temporarily suspended the memberships of the Russian Society of Cardiology and the Belarussian Society of Cardiologists in the ESC," the ESC statement reads.

"Individuals based in the Russian Federation or in Belarus are excluded from active participation in any ESC event or activity," it states.

"The ESC very much regrets the effect this may have on individual Russian and Belarussian cardiologists and scientists, but the message to Russian and Belarussian leadership must be distinct and unequivocal," it adds.

This action from the ESC has provoked a storm of heated discussions on the issue.

In a Twitter thread on the subject, Italian cardiologist Giuseppe Galati, MD, writes: "An astonishing decision by ESC that's excluding all the Russian and Belarussian scientists from ESC congresses and activities. Treating doctors and scientists as [if] they are Putin and are responsible for the war." 

Galati adds: "A strong message that brings us to 70 years ago. ESC is promoting exclusion and not inclusion and diversity."

Another commentator on the thread says: "It is a very unfortunate decision. Science, medicine should not be involved in politics. We are colleagues gathering together during congresses to exchange information for the sake of our patients. Politics should not overshadow this.”

And another added: "I think most cardiologists from Russia will not be able to participate in the events anyway, since international payments will soon be impossible from Russia. But it is wrong to limit the rights of doctors because of their nationality."

But others support the ESC's stance. Polish cardiologist Blazej Michalski, MD, says: "I think it is [a] good decision. Russians if they do not actively support dictatorship of Putin, the silence is also an agreement." He adds: "I am proud of ESC. They did what they were supposed to do."

A Twitter poll started by Ali Elzieny, MD, a cardiologist from Boston, titled "Do you agree that ESC suspend membership of Russian Society of Cardiology?" today had 1300 votes, with 61% of respondents disagreeing with the ESC decision and 39% in favor.  

Medical Societies Respond

Several other medical societies have issued communications appearing to disagree with the action by the ESC.

The American College of Cardiology issued a statement saying medicine should be above politics.

"The American College of Cardiology believes that patients come first, and now, more than ever, there is a need to rally around our members across the globe to ensure that they have the support and resources they need to care for their patients," said ACC President Dipti Itchhaporia, MD.

"Medicine is above politics and ACC will not exclude any of our colleagues who are working toward a shared mission of improving heart health. The College has a long history of working across borders to improve heart health and remains committed to that now and in the future. The ACC continues to express its support and concern for our members in the Ukraine and the patients they are working to treat on the frontlines," the ACC statement added.

The Tele-Cardiology Working Group of the International Society for Telemedicine & eHealth (ISFTEH) also issued a statement disagreeing with the action from the ESC.

"In light of recent events, the cardiology working group of the ISFTEH will not restrict access to its events to cardiologists with regards to their nationality, religious beliefs or other characteristics that may seem discriminatory. We believe medical information should be widely available for all, especially for those doctors that find themselves in difficulty," it said.

The European Academy of Neurology (EAN) said: "EAN is looking at ways to give practical support to Ukrainian neurologists and healthcare professionals there. EAN is not considering suspension of any individual member based on country of residence or nationality or any National Society member."

But one oncology professional group has also cut ties with Russia.

The international cancer specialist network, OncoAlert, issued a statement saying it has severed all cooperation with doctors in Russia as part of the Western sanctions.

"The OncoAlert Network is non-political, but we cannot stand idle and not take a stand against this aggression towards our Ukrainian friends & colleagues," OncoAlert said, adding that it will be pulling out of all collaborations and congresses in Russia. That statement was also greeted with a barrage of criticism on Twitter, mainly from Russian users.


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