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Open Access Commentary

The right to practice medicine without repercussions: ethical issues in times of political strife

Leith Hathout

Author Affiliations

Department of Biology, Stanford University, P.O. Box 11042, Stanford, CA, 9430-–1042, USA

Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine 2012, 7:11  doi:10.1186/1747-5341-7-11

Published: 13 September 2012

Abstract

This commentary examines the incursion on the neutrality of medical personnel now taking place as part of the human rights crises in Bahrain and Syria, and the ethical dilemmas which these incursions place not only in front of physicians practicing in those nations, but in front of the international community as a whole.

In Bahrain, physicians have recently received harsh prison terms, apparently for treating demonstrators who clashed with government forces. In Syria, physicians are under the same political pressure to avoid treating political demonstrators or to act as informants against their own patients, turning them in to government authorities. This pressure has been severe, to the point that some physicians have become complicit in the abuse of patients who were also political demonstrators.

This paper posits that physicians in certain countries in the Middle East during the “Arab Spring,” specifically Syria and Bahrain, are being used as both political pawns and political weapons in clear violation of Geneva Convention and World Medical Association guidelines, and that this puts them into the most extreme sort of “dual loyalty” dilemma. They are being forced to choose between their own safety and well-being and that of their patients – a negative sum scenario wherein there is no optimal choice. As such, an international call for a United Nations inquiry must be made in order to protect the neutrality of medical care and personnel during times of armed conflict.

Keywords:
Medical neutrality; Bahrain; Syria