Intended for healthcare professionals


Humanitarian action: the duty of all doctors

BMJ 1997; 315 doi: (Published 29 November 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;315:1389

Humanitarian issues, large and small, are all around us

  1. Vivienne Nathanson, Heada
  1. a Professional Resources and Research Group, BMA, London WC1H 9JP

    Humanitarian is defined by Webster's dictionary as “having concern for or helping to improve the welfare and happiness of mankind.” In that sense all doctoring is humanitarian. A second definition goes further: “a person actively engaged in promoting human welfare and social reforms.” Many doctors are not active in promoting social reform, but should they be? Every doctor knows that those who live on the margins of our world—those who are poor, vulnerable, elderly, addicted, insane, imprisoned, unemployed, discriminated against, tortured, homeless, condemned, caught up in wars—have higher rates of sicknessand ill health. Doctors should be paying great attention to those people, but too often, like everyone else, they neglect them. The poor have greater difficulty than the rich in accessing health care; prisoners get a second class service; doctors propose that the addicted—smokers, drug misusers—should be denied treatments like coronary bypass grafting. This issue of the BMJ has gathered together articles that deal with humanitarian issues, and although many concern people in poor, war torn countries, not all do.

    The main reason for publishing this special issue now is that next week in Ottawa the world's nations will try again to take effective action against antipersonnel landmines. A hundred years ago the BMJ published papers on the injuries caused by particular types of …

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