Was it wrong to use medical care as a reason to track down Bin Laden?

February 18, 2012

In a forum on the doc2doc website, an interesting debate is running on the question: Was it wrong to use medical care as a reason to track down Bin Laden? 

Doc2doc is an online professional networking community for healthcare professionals worldwide. It is facilitated by the BMJ Group that also publishes the British Medical Journal.

Undercover doctor

The US has confirmed that a Pakistani doctor Shikal Afridi was used as an undercover agent to help locate Osama Bin Laden. He claimed to be running a Hep B vaccination campaign in order to gain entry to Bin Laden’s compound in Abbotabad. Once inside, it was hoped he would be able to obtain DNA samples from those living in the compound and that these could be positively matched with the CIA’s Bin Laden family DNA samples. Bin Laden is dead but Dr Afridi is now being held in a Pakistan prison.

Medicines sans Frontiers told the BMJ: “Deceptive use of medical care endangers those who provide legitimate and essential health services. Furthermore, carrying out an act of no therapeutic or preventative benefit purely for military or intelligence purposes violates medical ethics, which require acting solely on the needs of patients and doing no harm.”

Was this an ethical ruse used by the CIA? Will it make people more suspicious of doctors who work on vaccination programmes (legitimate or not)? Or was it an acceptable yet one off strategy to track down Bin Laden?

The debate

The persons who responded to these questions display very different viewpoints. Some responses of people who found the Pakistani doctor’s involvement acceptable are:

“Hippocratic Oath said “first do no harm” but I guess that life damage to a world most notorious terrorist doesn’t count as harm to a human life as Pakistani doctor must have not seen Bin Laden as a human, just a dangerous and ruthless terrorist to this world.”

“Not tracking down Bin Laden would certainly be a failure to do no harm.  Bin Laden was an evil person who would stop at nothing to achieve his aim.  Some people have extremely short memories.  Had Bin Laden been tracked down earlier possibly the tragedy of 911 could have been averted.  Rejoice in the fact that because of tracking down Bin Laden, thousands of lives have been saved.”

“Yes it is OK to use any method to get Bin Laden, which by the way, the USA did. Simply put anyone who killed as many people as this Animal is not human!  All this bleeding heart liberal stuff grows old after a while,   get real, if your Family was in the the twin towers when they fell, you would want him to be tracked down,  Bin Laden lived the life of a Man without Honor or Morals, and died the same!”

Some of the people who did not agree at all wrote:

“Sorry but I think its wrong. I accept that Bin Laden was terriblly wrong in the actions that he advocated but it is not for a Doctor to help to kill under the disguise of doing a hepatitis vacination campaign. I agree with Medicines sans Frontiers spoksman that it may endanger other Doctors particularly those working in ‘Third World Countries’.”

“It was wrong. In our professional capacity we should be above such matters. I fail to see how playing secret agent in order to get a man killed lives up to the historical aspirations of this once noble profession. Once we sanction murder in any form as a profession, we will loose any respect from our patients and for ourselves.”

The full discussion can be followed here: www.doc2doc.bmj.com