Argentina: torture, silence, and medical teaching

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 19 June 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:1405
  1. Luis Justo, chair in bioethics
  1. Comahue National University, Argentina

    More than 30 years ago I asked my surgical instructor about petechial lesions on the scrotums of some criminals interned in the surgical ward. The shocking answer was, “Oh, yes, the police make them all go through ‘the machine’ before taking them to the hospital.” The machine, the “picana eléctrica,” was a device for torturing prisoners with electric shocks, usually in the vagina, testicles, mouth, anus, or nipples. I was horrified by the fact itself but no less by the matter of fact tone in which the answer was given. As a medical student I was pretty powerless, but I went to the head of the surgical service and tried to lodge a formal complaint. I was rebuffed without any chance to make my argument heard.

    Since 1983 we have been living under a “democratic” government, but torture is still rampant in Argentina. Sergio Gustavo Durán was arrested by the police in 1992. He was 17 years old. The arrest was routine—he wasn't …

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