The Forum for Medical Ethics Society (FMES) emerged from a unique combination of activism and education/sensitization at the interface of the healthcare system and society's needs; drawing concerned professionals from healthcare and from related fields such as the social sciences, humanities, law etc; as well as activists from civil society to work together.
Although the formal organisation was registered in 1995, its work began in 1989, when a group of concerned activists and health professionals started meeting infrequently in the office of the neurosurgery department of the KEM hospital, Mumbai, to discuss ethical challenges in healthcare. The issues that exercised the group were the gross erosion of medical ethics and patients' rights, dysfunctional medical councils, inequities in access to health care and the decline in the public health system. From 1991 to 1999, weekly meetings were regularly organised at the KEM hospital, the group conducted regular monthly open group discussions (they were called study circles) and interacted with associations of healthcare professions and with the voluntary groups such as Medico Friend Circle, health research NGOs and consumer groups. At the same time, the group also made efforts to intervene (e.g. contesting elections of Maharashtra Medical Council) and provide support to campaigns aimed at improving ethical standards and for universal access to health care.
Over the years, three groups of activities have emerged as the main work of the FMES:
- Publication of the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics, as a broad healthcare ethics journal for the developing world, giving space to essays that critique and provide alternatives for reforms, and at the same time, publish the empirical and theoretical research that advances the field of bioethics in India;
- Organisation of the National Bioethics Conferences (NBCs): In order to bring together healthcare and other professionals as well as health activists on one platform to share their work and debate, the FMES organised the first NBC on the platform of the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics in Mumbai, in 2005. Since then, the NBC has been organised every two or three years, with four NBCs (2005, 2007, 2010, 2012) being organised so far.
- The members of the FMES, individually, in small groups or as a part of the institutions they work with, make efforts to promote research and training in healthcare ethics, and whenever possible, provide assistance and consultation on bioethics.