Severe human rights abuses in healthcare settings

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e2013 (Published 14 March 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e2013
  1. Lydia Guterman, program officer1,
  2. Martin McKee, professor of European public health2
  1. 1Public Health Program, Open Society Foundations, New York, NY 10019, USA
  2. 2European Centre on Health of Societies in Transition, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London WC1H 9SH, UK
  1. martin.mckee{at}lshtm.ac.uk

Doctors should be aware of what constitutes torture to avoid being complicit

Every day healthcare professionals are complicit in serious human rights abuses. Some are the abusers or their assistants, whereas the complicity of others arises from a failure to act on violations that they witness. The responsibilities of doctors in both circumstances should be clear, having been set out by the World Medical Association in the Declaration of Tokyo: “the physician shall not countenance, condone or participate in the practice of torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading procedures.”1 Nor shall they “provide any premises, instruments, substances or knowledge to facilitate th[is] practice.” Yet, despite clear prohibitions, severe abuses are widespread, even in countries with well developed legal and regulatory systems.2

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has specifically identified medical institutions as settings for abuse,3 even though the medical personnel involved may be unaware that abuse is occurring. But do abuses in health facilities reach the …

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