How Medicine Has Fared Under ISIS

by Craig M. Klugman, Ph.D.

Like much of the world, I find myself reading daily news stories about the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)—also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL). This is a militant group that has conquered much of the territory of Syria and Iraq. They have created an Islamic state, or caliphate, run by sharia law. According to news reports, Western youth are heading to Syria to join ISIS attracted by the ideas, the adventure, belonging to a group, or generally feeling disillusioned. It’s not just young people, but also engineers and doctors.

In June, ISIS put out a call to recruit military officers, judges, managers, engineers and doctors. The call has met with some success. A Saudi Arabian newspaper noted that a doctor from that country joined ISIS. While reports differ, he either died in a booby-trap or while providing care to injured combatants.

Much of the news about physicians in this part of the world is disturbing and difficult. Physicians, nurses and other health care providers face tough ethical situations. Is providing medical care to a militant helping a person in need or contributing to the regime? Is performing unnecessary surgeries at gunpoint ethical or not? Should a physician be willing to be killed for his or her actions? If a patient is being whipped, is there an obligation to treat the injuries or to stop the beating even if that puts the provider at risk?

The news reports coming out of ISIS in regards to medical care present all of these ethical challenges.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.