Clinical care and complicity with torture

February 12, 2018

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Recently, the BMJ (British Medical Journal) published an article by Len Rubenstein, Zackary Berger and Matthew DeCamp entitled “Clinical care and complicity with torture”. It states that release of previously classified guidelines from the CIA regarding medical practice in secret detention facilities shows that the CIA instructed health professionals to “subordinate their fundamental ethical obligations regarding professionals standards of care to further the objectives of the torturers”.

Enhanced interrogation methods

From 2002 the CIA operated secret overseas prisons where terrorism suspects were detained and interrogated using “enhanced” methods such as extended sleep deprivation, confinement in a small box, exposure to cold water and air, stress positions and waterboarding. Medical officers were told that they were responsible for ensuring that enhanced interrogation methods did not result in serious or prolonged physical injury or death, although the limitations still permitted practices widely recognized as torture.

The authors call upon “professional organizations [to] stipulate that members do not practice in an environment where torture is taking place unless they are working exclusively for the benefit of the patient.” Those who violate this obligation should be disciplined. The authors also call on the World Medical Association to adopt amendments to the Declaration of Tokyo accordingly.

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