Intended for healthcare professionals


Doctors’ complicity with torture

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 31 July 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a1088
  1. Steven H Miles, professor of medicine and bioethics
  1. 1Center for Bioethics, N504 Boynton, Minneapolis, MN 55414, USA
  1. miles001{at}

    It is time for sanctions

    It is an arresting thought. More doctors abet torture than treat the millions of victims. More than 100 countries condone the use of torture. A third to a half of torture survivors report that a doctor oversaw the abuse.1 Many prisoners never see the doctors who refined the techniques to minimise evidential scars, prolong pain, or cause psychological destruction.2 Estimates of the numbers of torture victims do not include people whose murders disappear when a doctor writes “natural causes” on a death certificate.

    The medical profession ought to dissociate itself from torture—a practice that destroys institutions of civil society; that is used against colleagues of conscience, and that has far reaching adverse mental, physical, and social consequences. Instead, medical societies and licensing boards offer lofty condemnation, which is most ardently aimed at offenders abroad rather than accomplices at home.

    Doctors who abet torture rarely face professional risks. Governments will not punish a doctor for helping them carry out their crimes. Few medical societies or licensing boards have the courage and constancy of …

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