A Call for Military Physicians to Refuse Orders

Three authors, two lawyers (one with a Masters in Public Health) and an MD, have a strongly worded piece in the New England Journal of Medicine about military doctors acting as enablers of the punitive force-feeding of the hunger strikers at Guantanamo Bay prison.

 

Physicians at Guantanamo cannot permit the military to use them and their medical skills for political purposes and still comply with their ethical obligations. Force-feeding a competent person is not the practice of medicine; it is aggravated assault. Using a physician to assault prisoners no more changes the nature of the act than using physicians to “monitor” torture makes torture a medical procedure. Military physicians are no more entitled to betray medical ethics than military lawyers are to betray the Constitution or military chaplains are to betray their religion.5

They call on non-involved physicians to lobby Congress and the Department of Defense to stop the current practice of force-feeding, and on those actively involved to stop; to disobey orders if need be, in the name of medical ethics.

We believe that individual physicians and professional groups should use their political power to stop the force-feeding, primarily for the prisoners’ sake but also for that of their colleagues. They should approach congressional leaders, petition the DOD to rescind its 2006 instruction permitting force-feeding, and state clearly that no military physician should ever be required to violate medical ethics. We further believe that military physicians should refuse to participate in any act that unambiguously violates medical ethics.

Military physicians who refuse to follow orders that violate medical ethics should be actively and strongly supported

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