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Doctors' Participation in Interrogations Unethical: AMA

New policy prompted, in part, by reports from Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay

TUESDAY, June 13, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Taking a formal stand on what has become a hot-button issue, the American Medical Association has adopted ethical guidelines opposing the involvement of doctors in the torture, abuse and interrogation of prisoners.

Physicians can still help train individuals in the use of ethical interrogation techniques, however, the association said.

"Doctors should not be directly involved in interrogations," said AMA president-elect Dr. Ronald Davis. "We are worried about physicians involved in such things as interrogations or executions, because in many ways these things go against the underlying tenets of health care and the ethics of our profession, which is to prevent disease and suffering," he said.

The AMA approved the new policy Monday at its annual House of Delegates meeting in Chicago. The move was spurred, in part, by reports of interrogation techniques used at Guantanamo Naval Base, Cuba mand Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

"Physicians must not conduct, directly participate in, or monitor an interrogation with an intent to intervene, because this undermines the physician's role as healer," added Dr. Priscilla Ray, the chair of the AMA's Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs.

The doctor's role in interrogations should be limited to the ethical training of those doing the interrogation, she said.

"Because it is justifiable for physicians to serve in roles that serve the public interest, the AMA policy permits physicians to develop general interrogation strategies that are not coercive, but are humane and respect the rights of individuals," Ray said.

The goal of the policy is to "promote compassion, not coercion," said Ray, a Houston-based psychiatrist.

"The practice of medicine is based on trust, and physicians are expected to care for patients without regard to personal characteristics," she said. "The development of this new ethical policy removes ambiguity for physicians who must make decisions about their involvement in interrogations."

According to the policy, "physicians must neither conduct nor directly participate in an interrogation, because a role as physician-interrogator undermines the physician's role as healer and "physicians must not monitor interrogations with the intention of intervening in the process, because this constitutes direct participation in interrogation."

Ray noted that the policy was developed after trips to Guanatamo and discussions with military physicians and commanders. Military physicians can opt out of any duty they find unethical, she noted.

In terms of the physician's role in developing interrogation strategies, Ray suggested that these were limited to teaching interrogators how to develop rapport with prisoners. She went on to say that the recent suicides at Guanatamo were regrettable, but not something that the AMA should be involved with.

Reactions of other groups to the AMA's new policy were positive. The American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law and Physicians for Human Rights have all praised the AMA for the new guidelines.

More information

For more on medical ethics, head to Physicians for Human Rights.

SOURCES: Priscilla Ray, M.D., chair, American Medical Association's Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs, and psychiatrist, Houston; Ronald Davis, M.D., president-elect, AMA, and director, Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, Henry Ford Health System, Detroit; June 12, 2006, American Medical Association House of Delegates Meeting, Chicago
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