Monday, June 15, 2009

Physicians reminded of their ethical Obligations in Relation to Torture and Interrogation

Physicians reminded of their ethical Obligations in Relation to Torture and Interrogation
World Medical Association Press Releases: 15 May 2009

Physicians have been strongly reminded by the World Medical Association that they are prohibited from participating in or even being present during the practice of torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading procedures.

In a resolution today at its Council meeting in Tel Aviv, Israel, the WMA reaffirmed its previous policy declarations and approved a resolution saying that ‘reports worldwide have alluded to deeply unsettling practices by health professionals, including direct participation in the infliction of ill-treatment, monitoring specific methods of ill-treatment and participation in interrogation processes’.

The resolution reiterated WMA guidelines in the Declaration of Tokyo prohibiting physicians from participating in, or even being present during, the practice of torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading procedures and urged national medical associations to inform physicians and governments of the Declaration and its contents.

It reaffirmed WMA policy in the Declaration of Hamburg supporting doctors who refused to participate in or condone the use of torture or other forms of cruel or inhuman or degrading treatment.

The resolution also reiterated policy on the responsibility of physicians to denounce acts of torture or cruel or inhuman or degrading treatment of which they were aware and it urged national medical associations to speak out in support of these fundamental principle of medical ethics and to investigate any breach of these principles by their members of which they were aware.

Dr. Edward Hill, Chair of the WMA, said: ‘It is quite clear that any involvement by physicians in torture is fundamentally incompatible with their role as healers. It violates the essential ethical obligations on all physicians to “first do no harm” and to respect human dignity. As the world’s largest association of physicians and the voice of the medical profession, the WMA will work to ensure that these core principles guide physicians worldwide.’


This press release was made in conjunction with an WMA meeting in Israel, where the Declaration of Tokyo was reaffirmed. It fully endorses the stance of what I had earlier commented which was: that any form of custodial torture, injury or worse custodial death is totally unacceptable. As a concerned physician and now as MMA president, we must denounce such despicable actions in the strongest terms, without fear or favour!

It is sad that following the public outcry on the Kugan's case, there have been more instances of alleged custodial police brutality and/or unexplained deaths. Another recent case where 4 prisoners were seriously injured after prison wardens broke up a prison fight was described by SUHAKAM as excessive: Prison bashing: Suhakam says excessive force used.

We must urge the police and detention authorities (prison guards included) to revamp their modus operandi on custodial interogation and/or detention.
Authorities must desist from taking the law into their own hands.

We must urge them to strictly adhere to and follow civil laws and regulations which do not absolve or exempt them from complicity, censure or even legal repercussions. There can be no immunity from wanton abuse of police power!

As an important part of my inaugural speech as President of the MMA, on 29 May 2009, I had stated in no uncertain terms that we have to have the courage of conviction, physician autonomy and urgency to denounce such excesses of state actions:

I firmly believe that any pursuit of better ethical standards is not irregular or out of place. Adherence to rigorous edicts of correct medical behaviour in line with our other medical brethren globally, can only elevate to higher standards our medical professionalism, especially vis-à-vis difficult thorny conditions under state constricted landscapes.

Thus, as party to such universal medical ethics, the MMA must forcefully endorse the right of our physicians to act independently and without fear of reprisals from state agencies, which might have their own directed or political agendas. The recent pressures and possible political and police intimidation on doctors making medical reports or autopsies must be strongly opposed.

As physicians, we must always stand on the side of the presumed innocent, the detainees, including every prisoner. We must insist that all custodial deaths should be fully investigated. Indeed in any modern society, custodial coercive techniques, injuries or deaths should be things of the past.

Simply put, there should be no carte blanche to torture any person in custody no matter the circumstances or suspicion of guilt. The arbitrary presumed greater good for the majority should never override that irrevocable civic right of the individual.

The Tokyo Declaration on Torture by the World Medical Association has clearly delineated where physicians must stand on this issue, without compromise. As medical doctors, we cannot be complicit in these possible excesses of authoritarian abuses—otherwise we all stand accused of tolerating our own little ‘Guantanamo’ or ‘Abu Ghraib’!

Thus, in line with our consistent premise and accord with the World Medical Association, the MMA must lead and will engage vigorously to defend our scrupulous position on such ethical and practice issues, under my leadership. We will not shy away from issues, which might be deemed too politically incorrect.

Furthermore, if we do not stand by our medical colleagues, how can they on their own withstand the lonely if overwhelming pressures to function with responsibility, justice and professional honesty?

In the early 1900s, Dr. Sun Yat Sen, physician-founder of modern China challenged the oppressive power structures and championed improvement in the lives of millions of his countrymen, by spearheading independence from Imperial China. He believed that “physicians are the natural attorneys of the poor, and social problems fall to a large extent within their jurisdiction.”

We must therefore, safeguard these staunch institutional values to the best of our abilities and commitment, so that we can be assured of our constancy with our medical brethren worldwide.

Our standard of quintessential professionalism can help conscientise our medical community, and enhance our common humanity. We can help remind our colleagues and our citizens that moral core values cannot be compromised, and that we are not alone in espousing these higher standards."

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