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September 17, 1982

Medical Ethics and Torture

JAMA. 1982;248(11):1307-1308. doi:10.1001/jama.1982.03330110015007

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To the Editor.—  Torture, especially with the cooperation of persons dedicated to healing, is a moral evil. When political involvement in medical care and access to it leads to the physical and mental destruction of human beings, it degrades the entire medical profession.Yet despite the profession's concern that its members should "be of help, but above all, do no harm," the medical community often remains ignorant of instances where politicized physicians and other medical personnel have become agents of a tyrannical state.The dilemmas that physicians may experience in carrying out a political directive that violates the fundamental ethics of their profession are now clearly in focus. Should physicians force-feed political prisoners who are fasting in protest? Should physicians revive prisoners so that they can be returned to torture? Should physicians certify prisoners as being physically "fit" for torture? Should psychiatric hospitals agree to the imprisonment of political dissidents?