[Skip to Content]
[Skip to Content Landing]
March 24/31, 2004

Medical Ethics Suborned by Tyranny and War

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliation: Center for Clinical Bioethics, Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, DC.

JAMA. 2004;291(12):1505-1506. doi:10.1001/jama.291.12.1505

Tyranny and war have always brought out the noblest and the most reprehensible in human conduct. This is particularly true for physicians, whose ancient code of beneficence toward the sick is severely tested when medical knowledge is used for military and political purposes as well as for healing.1 The survey of physician participation in human rights abuses in southern Iraq reported by Reis and colleagues2 in this issue of THE JOURNAL is another painful reminder of how physicians may violate the most rudimentary ethical duties under the exigencies of war or despotic national rule. Its methodological shortcomings notwithstanding, the study reveals, once again, how often ruthlessly tyrannical regimes suborn the uses of medical knowledge for execrable ends.