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Doctors' involvement in human rights violations

Humanitarian Fund Madagascar - New case studies - Neo Natal
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Only to be used relating to the Humanitarian Fund 2018
  • Iran

    State affiliated doctors participate in executions

    In August 2018, we raised concerns about reports that state-affiliated doctors were facilitating the execution of young prisoners in Iran. In one instance, a 19-year-old named Abolfazi Chezani Sharahi was executed for a crime he committed when 14 years old following medical opinion that he was mentally ‘mature’ at the time of the offence.

    Any involvement of physicians in any form of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment, including assessing individuals as ‘fit’ for capital punishment is unlawful, unethical and in gross contravention of the professional codes set down by the World Medical Association in its International Code of Medical Ethics.

    The primary duty of all physicians is to promote the wellbeing of their patients – and, first and foremost, to ensure they do no harm. The involvement of physicians in facilitating the death penalty is a gross violation of doctors’ primary moral obligations. We therefore called upon the Iranian authorities to protect core professional obligations and ensure that physicians are never involved in sentencing individuals to the death penalty, or in preparing, facilitating or participating in executions.

    Read our letter to the Iranian Ambassador, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani

  • United States

    Medical involvement in force-feeding at Guantánamo

    We wrote to President Obama and US Secretary of Defense Hagel, urging them to suspend immediately medical involvement in force-feeding at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility and to institute an urgent inquiry into how the situation developed.

    We have also written to the pharmaceutical companies that are reportedly supplying the US military with the nutritional products used in the force-feeding, asking them to disassociate themselves and their products from the practice.

    In April 2013, the US Department of Defense reportedly sent 40 additional military medical personnel, including doctors and nurses, to the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base to carry out the force-feeding of detainees on hunger strike. By the end of June, up to 104 of the remaining 166 individuals held in US military detention at Guantánamo were refusing food.

    The protest against conditions at the base, and the fate of those being held there – including those cleared for transfer or release – began in February. In June it was reported that as many as 44 of the hunger strikers were being force-fed by military medical teams.

    The force-feeding of a mentally competent adult hunger striker by medical staff is a gross violation of internationally accepted ethical standards, as articulated by the World Medical Association (WMA) declarations of Malta and Tokyo.

    The US authorities' response to the hunger strike has sparked outrage among the international medical community. Adding UK doctors' voices to these calls, our 2013 ARM passed a resolution condemning the participation of doctors and nurses in force-feeding, calling on governments worldwide to ensure that all prisoners have access to confidential, independent medical treatment and supporting any clinician who challenges cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

     

    Further reading

    Read our letters to reported suppliers and a response from Nestlé, August 2013

    Read our letter to the US President and Secretary of Defense, June 2013

    Read our letter to the Guardian about the Guantánamo case, June 2013

    Read a BMJ editorial on force-feeding at Guantánamo Bay, July 2013

    See the WMA declarations of Malta and Tokyo

  • Vietnam

    Health Ministry sources drugs for lethal injections

    We wrote to the Vietnam Minister of Health after the country formally reintroduced the death penalty by lethal injection in June 2013.

    Any involvement of physicians in any form of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment, including assessing individuals as ‘fit’ for capital punishment is unlawful, unethical and in gross contravention of the professional codes set down by the World Medical Association in its International Code of Medical Ethics.

    Our letter, co-signed by the Danish Medical Association and German Medical Association, called on the Vietnamese health minister, who is a medical doctor to ensure that the Ministry of Health ceases its involvement, as well as the involvement of all medical personnel, in executions.