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International Issue of Torture Complicity Analyzed

Medical community may condone torture or fail to intervene

FRIDAY, Aug. 1 (HealthDay News) -- More than 100 countries condone the use of torture and have often recruited the medical community as participants without consequence, according to an editorial published online July 31 in BMJ.

Steven H. Miles, M.D., of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, writes that physicians who participate in torture rarely suffer any professional risks, as governmental agencies supporting torture will not prosecute physicians. Also, accrediting bodies and licensing boards, while having policies against torture, fail to investigate or act against physicians operating under "the law of the land."

Exceptions to the "policy of impunity" related to torture are rare. Miles provides examples from Greece, Chile, Argentina, South Africa and Brazil, where physicians have been punished after the changing of regimes for their complicity.

"Countries wax and wane in their practice of torture. Foundations for making doctors accountable for this crime must be laid during periods of civil society. At such times, each national medical society and licensing agency should assert that medical complicity with torture and cruel inhuman or degrading treatment is a punishable breach of medical ethics that cannot be excused by law and for which there is no term limit," according to the author. "A civilian medical community that acquiesces to torture by its military members cannot credibly protest against foreign doctors who carry out torture. Such a community can hardly support doctors who are endangered for their resistance against torture. The prestige and values of medicine make it a crucial part of the campaign to abolish torture."


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