Surgical mutilation judgment in Saudi Arabia “violates medical ethics”

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 31 August 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c4730
  1. Peter Moszynski
  1. 1London

    Saudi Arabian authorities are being urged not to deliberately paralyse a man in retribution for similar injuries he allegedly caused during a fight.

    Amnesty International said that a court in Tabuk, in the north west of the country, has approached a number of hospitals asking about the possibility of cutting the man’s spinal cord to carry out the punishment of “qisas” (retribution), as requested by the injured victim.

    It reports that one hospital has said it would be possible to injure the spinal cord at the same place as the damage the man is alleged to have caused his victim using a cleaver in a fight more than two years ago, resulting in paralysis.

    Amnesty says that the court may decide not to impose the paralysis punishment and could instead sentence the man to imprisonment, financial compensation, or flogging. In previous retribution cases in Saudi Arabia sentences passed have included eye removal and tooth extraction in a literal interpretation of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”

    Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, said, “Amnesty opposes judicially ordered corporal punishment, including flogging and surgical mutilation. All forms of such punishment are a violation of international law, and Amnesty does not make comparisons between them. United Nations human rights bodies have consistently reiterated that corporal punishment violates the absolute prohibition in international law of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

    “Judicially ordered punishments of surgical mutilation such as amputation, removal of eyes or teeth, or severing a spinal cord are torture. The involvement of medical personnel in carrying them out also breaches medical ethics. Governments and courts should not require or request health professionals to participate or be complicit in such acts, which violate international law and the ethics of their own profession.”

    The World Medical Association has commended Saudi medical personnel who rejected the court’s request to assist in the procedure.

    The association’s president, Dana Hanson, said, “This is an appalling request and one which every physician must resist. As the WMA’s Declaration of Tokyo clearly states, no physician should participate in the practice of torture or any other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading procedures, whatever the offence of which the victim of such procedures is suspected, accused, or guilty of. The declaration also includes a prohibition of participation in the planning or advising for such a procedure.”

    Frank Donaghue, director of Physicians for Human Rights, said, “In this day and age it is unthinkable that medical doctors would consider using their training and skill to intentionally harm another human being as part of a judicial process. It would be a violation of medical ethics in the extreme. This case is cause for legal institutions everywhere to scrutinise their laws to ensure that doctors are able to comply with their most basic duty to do no harm.”


    Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c4730

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