Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tortured ethics

In the wake of new revelations about Bush-era torture of terrorism suspects, the American Medical Association has written a letter to US President Barack Obama telling him that the use of doctors in torture violates basic medical ethics.

Any involvement by physicians in torture is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as a healer. Such involvement would violate core ethical obligations of the medical profession to “first, do no harm” and to respect human dignity and rights.

These core principles are enshrined in the Code of Medical Ethics of the American Medical Association (AMA) and the codes of other professional medical organizations throughout the world. Our AMA Code forcefully states medicine’s opposition to torture or coercive interrogation and prohibits physician participation in such activities. Our Code calls on physicians to support victims of torture, to report the use of torture, and to strive to change situations in which torture is practiced. At stake are the rights and well-being of individuals, the integrity of medicine, and society’s trust in the profession.

The group says it is ready and willing to work with the new president "to ensure that these core principles guide our nation’s physicians."

Last Saturday, the Washington Post outlined the role of medical professionals in the torture.

The CIA dispatched personnel from its office of medical services to each secret prison and evaluated medical professionals involved in interrogations "to make sure they could stand up, psychologically handle it," according to a former CIA official.

The alleged actions of medical professionals in the secret prisons are viewed as particularly troubling by an array of groups, including the American Medical Association and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

AMA policies state that physicians "must not be present when torture is used or threatened." The guidelines allow doctors to treat detainees only "if doing so is in their [detainees'] best interest" and not merely to monitor their health "so that torture can begin or continue."

The various justifications used by the CIA for using medical professionals are outlined on the Mic Check blog, along with other justifications, as contained in a declassified CIA memo.


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