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May 23, 1986

A Question of Conscience: Physicians in Defense of Human Rights

Author Affiliations

From the Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington, DC.

JAMA. 1986;255(20):2794-2797. doi:10.1001/jama.1986.03370200096035

ACCOUNTS of torture and other human rights abuses reach us daily through the news media. Amnesty International, the recipient of the 1977 Nobel peace prize for its human rights efforts, reports that in the past four years alone governments in one third of the world's countries have systematically practiced or tacitly condoned torture or ill-treatment to interrogate, punish, and intimidate political opponents. The techniques they use may include electric shock, prolonged beatings, sham executions, sensory and sleep deprivation, cigarette burns, water submersion, and, more recently, mind-altering drugs.1 For the victims—whether imprisoned in a secret detention center in Santiago or in a special psychiatric hospital in Moscow—such brutality knows no ideology because its goal is the same: to silence dissent through the destruction of healthy bodies and minds.

The problem of torture should be a concern of medical professionals worldwide for several reasons.2 First, torture defies the most fundamental

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