Armed forces doctor Ethics

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1. Guiding principles

Doctors in the armed forces work in closed and hierarchical command structures. As members of the military, they are likely to identify closely with, and experience strong loyalty towards, the unit or service of which they are a part.

The health of my patient will be my first consideration.  

World Medical Association, Declaration of Geneva

At the same time, doctors' professional obligations require them to prioritise their ethical duties to their patients over and above their responsibilities and loyalties to the military.

These factors can result in conflicts of interest for military doctors. It is vital that doctors remain alert to the ways in which such conflicts can impact on their ability to meet their binding ethical obligations.

The following core principles form the basis of the guidance throughout this tool kit:

  • The actions of all military personnel, including medical personnel, should at all times be proportionate and just.
  • The conduct of military doctors should accord with the ethical standards of civilian practitioners.
  • Medical care should be delivered according to clinical need, impartially and without discrimination.
  • Doctors should not be involved in or cooperate with torture, or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, which is illegal in all circumstances.
  • Doctors should report violations of ethics and applicable laws, or practices that interfere with their ability to meet their ethical duties, to the appropriate chain of command.
  • Doctors must be able to justify any departure from accepted ethical principles or guidelines.

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Ethical decision making for doctors in the armed forces tool kit (PDF)