Intended for healthcare professionals


Health and human rights

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: (Published 16 June 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:1435

The BMA's latest handbook on human rights challenges us all

  1. Jennifer Leaning (, professor of international health
  1. Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health, 651 Huntingdon Aveneue, Boston, MA 02115, USA

    In 1986 and 1992 the BMA broke new ground in publishing reports on human rights that documented what physicians were doing to the detriment of their patients and profession and identified ways in which medical associations could help constrain such behaviour. 1 2 The definition of human rights remained relatively restricted, however, in concentrating on rights in closed institutions such as prisons and psychiatric hospitals. In its latest book, The Medical Profession and Human Rights: A Handbook for a Changing Agenda,3 published last month, the BMA has set its sights on a much wider range of issues and a wider audience—all mainstream physicians and healthcare professionals in Europe and North America.

    Certainly, much of relevance to human rights has happened in the past decade, including wars in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Chechnya; trials and truth and reconciliation processes; the development of the Istanbul Protocol on physicians and torture; and civil campaigns to ban landmines and establish an international criminal court. As a result of these experiences a small segment of the medical community is growing knowledgable about dealing with health and human rights issues of psychological trauma, 4 5 cultural and religious clashes on health practices,6 the complicity of physicians in repressive regimes,7 investigations into mass killings and terror,8 and the medical arguments against certain weapons systems.9 The BMA could have recounted the lessons …

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