Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Letters Doctors and torture

The campaign about doctors and torture in Israel five years on

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 09 July 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g4386

Rapid Response:

Sir Michael Marmot, the World Medical Association, and medical complicity with torture in Israel

In February this year the BMJ posted up our letter relating the extraordinary response by UK academic Sir Michael Marmot, President of the World Medical Association (the official organisation monitoring medical ethics internationally) to the submission by 71 UK doctors of an evidence-based appeal about longstanding complicity with torture by Israeli doctors shielded by the Israeli Medical Association (IMA). (1) The WMA is mandated to ensure that its member associations, which include the IMA, abide by its declarations- in particular the anti-torture Declaration of Tokyo which forbids doctors any involvement with torture and obliges them whenever they encounter it to protect the victim and to speak out. Within a week of our submission the Jewish organisation Simon Wiesenthal Centre, not an involved party in this matter, had published a letter on their website from Marmot to their Director of International Relations which claimed that ” investigations have revealed no wrong doing” by the IMA. This is simply untrue, as the evidence base to which we point makes transparently clear. This apparent exoneration of the IMA by no less than WMA President gifted them a signal propaganda victory, widely reported. For example, the Jerusalem Post newspaper report was headlined “WMA affirms trust in Israeli doctors..” (2)

Indeed our experience since the original submission to the WMA in 2009 signed by 725 doctors from 43 countries, attaching a raft of incriminating evidence from such as Amnesty International, has been that the WMA will speak out about some countries but never about Israel, whatever the evidence (3). In the present case Marmot has still not replied to the 71 signatories, and has ignored 3 requests made by the BMJ for a response. How are we then to understand this refusal to justify actions taken in the name of the WMA Presidency? The circumstances related above, not least the immediate endorsement of the IMA sent to the Wiesenthal Centre, suggests a partisan dereliction of duty which violates the WMA’s own mandates. There is no question that so goes to the heart of the global public reputation of doctors as their complicity with torture - this is why the WMA was created after World War 2.

This matter is a litmus test of whether internationally agreed medical ethical codes actually matter, and can hold transgressors to account, even when they have powerful friends. The signatories would welcome suggestions as to how this matter can be taken forward. The British Medical Association is a fellow member of the WMA and could intervene, the more so since the President is a British doctor.

1. Summerfield D, Burns-Cox C. Sir Michael Marmot, the World Medical Association, and medical complicity with torture in Israel. BMJ 2014;349:g4386.
2. 29 Jan 2016.
3. Summerfield D. The WMA speaks out on Iran but not Israel. Why not? BMJ 2009;339:b431

Competing interests: No competing interests

15 September 2016
Derek A Summerfield
hon sen lect
Chris Burns-Cox (WottonUnder-Edge, Gloucs GL12)
Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience
De Crespigny Park, London SE5.