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A grim dilemma: Treating the tortured prisoner
Date:5/9/2011

outweighed by other factors, such as the tortured prisoner's desire for treatment. They argue that dilemmas facing physicians arise because different principles, such as refraining from doing harm and respecting a patient's wishes, come in conflict with each other. As a result, they write, "This dilemma is real and . . . sometimes the right thing for a doctor to do, overall, is to be complicit in torture."

The authors provide guidelines to physicians for minimizing complicity, including assessing the consequences of their actions for themselves, the patient, and possibly society, and attempting to discern and follow the requests of the patient. Physicians can minimize complicity by ensuring that their actions do not share the wrongful intentions of the torturers and that they perform the physician role in such a way at to "mitigate, prevent, or help redress acts of torture." For example, a physician could secretly collect data to be used by groups investigating torture. The authors note that physicians who have been coerced into assisting with torture have often been among the first sources for international tribunals redressing the torture.

Despite their recommendations for individual physicians, the authors do not endorse altering professional and legal prohibitions against physician involvement in torture, because these powerful condemnations offer aspiration to a world without torture and they can help doctors avoid involvement. But the authors do recommend a case-by-case approach to enforcement that considers the challenges and ethical complexities for physicians in countries where torture is widespread, as well as the willingness of some doctors to compromise themselves for the sake of their patients.

"Other things being equal, it is better for a physician not to be complicit in torture," the authors conclude. "But other things are rarely equal and . . . a physician ought sometimes to accept complicity in torture for other moral r
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Contact: Michael Turton
turtonm@thehastingscenter.org
845-424-4040 x242
The Hastings Center
Source:Eurekalert

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