Intended for healthcare professionals


Torture and doctors’ dual obligation

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 03 February 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h589

Re: Torture and doctors’ dual obligation

Medical participation in torture is the very antithesis of good medical practice. Yet, despite the role of medical practice - to prevent, palliatate or cure illness or disability - being manifestly explicit, the BMJ editorial 'Torture and doctors’ dual obligation' focuses on how some doctors are at risk of inadvertantly colluding with, or participating in, torture.

In 1994 I reported doctors’ participation and leadership in Rwanda's most brutal of genocides (2) . When Colin Murray Parkes and I described the psychological, social and emotional influences that rendered perpetrators susceptible to the genocidal ideology, medical ethics were an irrelevance(3). Torture, rape and murder are considered such heinous crimes they can amount to crimes against humanity worthy of prosecution by the International Criminal Court. Genocide and torture are considered so egregious they are policed by individual UN Conventions which, uniquely, incorporate universal justisdiction obliging every country to prosecute any alleged perpetrator crossing their border.

The authors' laudable intentions would be better served by insisting that all alleged perpetrators are prosecuted so the victims can gain redress, and by requiring all doctors be subject to mandatory education in human rights so as to gain an appropriate perspective upon the intrinsic worth and value of each patient.

Torture and doctors’ dual obligation. Sheather J, Beynon R, Davies T et al. BMJ 2015;350:h589

Rwanda 1994: a report of the genocide. p 33-7 Doctors for Human Rights. 1994.

3. Responses to Terrorism: Can psychosocial approaches break the cycle of violence? Parkes C. p 118-132. Routledge, London 2014

Competing interests: No competing interests

13 February 2015
Peter L Hall
Palliative Care Physician
Doctors for Human Rights
91 Harlech Rd, Abbots Langley, WD5 0BE