Intended for healthcare professionals


Bioethics are difficult to balance

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 29 May 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:1215
  1. Asad J Raja, associate professor (asad.raja{at}
  1. Department of Surgery, Aga Khan University, Stadium Road, Karachi, Pakistan 74800

    EDITOR—Singh and DePellegrin focus too narrowly on the Western notions of bioethics.1 According to them, doctors who permit images of war to be captured fail in their legal and ethical duty to protect their patients.

    Bioethical codes may not be different around the world, but they have to be contextual. Preaching to doctors not to allow filming of injured people in wars without consent is adding further insult to their injuries. Is the value of confidentiality and privacy more at stake here or the issues of justice and human rights? Would it be ethical for the doctors to censor the plight of civilian victims of war? In public health, individual rights can be usurped for the benefit of larger community. Why in a war, where there is danger to millions, should individual rights be so sacred?

    In this day and age it is equally crucial to win the war on the electronic front as it is to win on the battleground. Special “embedded” journalists showed what they wanted the Western world in particular to see—the backdrop of upbeat music was of an army marching among the fallen defending soldiers, with the deafening blitz of heavy artillery and the roar of rolling armour as liberators of a sovereign state.

    Other journalists braved it out where cruise missiles rained relentlessly. Should they have shown the fireworks and illuminations on the skies or the casualties of war? I wonder as a doctor working in these conditions, would it not be ethical for me to allow the world to see the horrific images of war? The realities of war are bitter, and the realisation of it necessary and absolute. Ethically it is equally important to try to stop or prevent such catastrophe as it is to treat victims of war with respect.


    • Competing interests None declared.


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