At stake is the reputation of international medical ethical codes as a system that works

January 4, 2010
Richard Kuper


Rapid response in the British Medical Journal, 4 January 2010 from Ruchama Marton, Psychiatrist, Privet clinic (Circulated by the author)

It is of grave concern to the health of international medical ethics that the WMA refuses to examine the telling body of evidence, including that submitted by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, regarding the complicity with torture in Israel by individual physicians and the Israeli Medical Association, a WMA member.

I was a speaker at a conference in Turkey- “Health as a Bridge to Peace in the Middle East”- a few weeks ago. The conference was organised by the WMA, the Norwegian and Turkish Medical Associations, the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, and the International Federation of Health and Human Rights Organisations. New WMA President Dr Dana Hanson of Canada was present. My Power Point presentation included Case “M”, a Palestinian man detained in Israel. His affidavit states:

Interrogated for 20 days, most of the time seated on a chair fixed to the floor, hands tied behind his back. Beaten and shaken, while shackled to the chair. Threatened that his house would be demolished and mother would be arrested. Indeed she was. Following severe beatings, he fainted and sustained cuts to his head and face. He suffered severe pains in his jaw to the extent he was unable to eat. He was taken to a hospital by an ambulance. In presence of ambulance paramedics and a doctor, interrogator instructs colleagues not to tell what happened, but to say “M” fell down the stairs. Hospital doctors treat him while still shackled. “M” receives stitches to head and face. Doctor is asked by interrogators not to order hospitalization. The doctor obeys. “M” was brought back to prison. Interrogators ordered “M” to wait inside the ambulance 3 hours to avoid having “M” examined by the prison doctor (the one who asks too many questions). “M” was finally released to another doctor, (the doctor who doesn’t ask questions). When M complains to the prison doctor he is told to shut up, sent shackled to confinement cell without medicine. Medication administered only following Red Cross visit.

There could hardly be a more graphic example of doctors violating the WMA anti-torture Declaration of Tokyo. WMA President Hanson saw it with his own eyes at a conference, as did new IMA President Dr Leonid Eidelman.

In the mentioned above presentation at the Turkey conference I suggested to the WMA and WHO some practical actions to avoid doctors and health personnel compliance in torture: to bind all National Medical Associations to act both educationally and practically against torture or inhumane treatment by require its members to report any case of torture and in the same time to create a process for granting legal and financial support to every doctor that might lose his/her job due to reporting such acts.

The WMA has a duty to ensure its member associations abide by its codes including the Declaration of Tokyo. What is at stake is the reputation of international medical ethical codes as a system that works. So what is President Hanson going to do about Case “M” and the many like it?

Competing interests: Founder & President Physicians for Human Rights-Israel

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