Medical Ideal: Do No Harm

Ethics, morals and compassion were never close companions to the G. W. Bush administration in spite of their claims of religious guidance.  And like the bad apple that infects the whole barrel of apples, the aura of calloused disregard for anyone outside their clique spilled even into the medical branch of the armed service.  After the 9/11 attack upon U.S. soil in 2001 many international norms established by members of the Geneva Convention, of which the United States was/is a member, would be disregarded and violated by the Bush administration.

 Of the numerous crimes sanctioned by the Bush group, the authorization of torture of prisoners was possibly one of the most reprehensible.  An example of the administration’s disregard for the Geneva Convention agreements was made clear in December of 2002, for it was at that time that Donald Rumsfeld issued a directive that allowed interrogators to withhold medical care in non-emergency situations.  In other words, enemy soldiers with injuries, including gunshot wounds, were to be denied medical treatment as a means to make them reveal information.  The directive did not stand very long, but even after being revoked the practice was established and continued.

 But around April of 2003 Rumsfeld then approved the provision that doctors had to certify any prisoners held for interrogation as being “medically and operationally” suitable for torture, and the doctors had to be present for the torture sessions.  This medical involvement with the torture strategy of the administration was in direct opposition to the Hippocratic oath and to the World Medical Association’s directive that doctors could not assist in cruelty or torture of any kind.  Indeed, doctors are held duty-bound to report any abuses they might witness.  Unfortunately, too few uniformed physicians were warrior enough to stand up in defense of their Hippocratic principles.

Then in June 2005 a memo was excreted out of the Pentagon that cunningly sought to skirt official forbiddance of a doctor’s involvement.  The memo asserted that doctors were allowed to participate in torture and share medical records with interrogators as long as the detainee being interrogated was not officially their patient!

 There were a few honorable military physicians and medics who called for ethical reviews, but the Pentagon consistently overruled them.  There followed a clampdown on medical ethics by the Pentagon which altered the way doctors were screened for service, with only those favorable to the torture program being deployed to locations where “high value al Qaeda” detainees were held.

 To the shame of the American Medical Association, it was not until November 2006 that it finally issued a statement avowing that doctors cannot participate in torture-inflicted interrogation.  Even then there were four AMA military delegates who objected and sought to obstruct such high-principled medical ethics.  Thankfully there are still ethical doctors who have petitioned AMA leaders to endorse an independent investigation of their colleagues’ participation in detainee abuses.

To date they have been voted down four times.

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