Bioethics Blogs

U.S. Military Medical Ethics Guidelines in Limbo

As President Barack Obama’s term comes to a conclusion, various initiatives started under his administration remain unfinished.  One of these, the adoption of the recommendations of the Defense Health Board (DHB), “Ethical Guidelines and Practices for U.S. Military Medical Professionals,”  is of utmost importance to health care professionals in our military.

Health care providers in the United States are bound by the Hippocratic Oath, medical ethics, respect for human rights, international declarations, Geneva Conventions, the Nuremburg Code, and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration of Human Rights states, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.” Medical ethics embodies these historical documents and calls upon health care providers to do no harm to patients, obtain their consent, not violate their bodily integrity, and recognize their vulnerability. These principles apply to patients in civilian or military settings including the care of detainees and prisoners.

After 9/11, conflicts arose between these ethical standards and the duties of health care personnel. These conflicts needed to be settled within a framework that respects the codes of ethical and professional conduct. The DHB report is a response to that overwhelming need. 

Senator Diane Feinstein, vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has written to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter urging the adoption of the recommendations. Support has also come from prominent bioethicists and human rights advocates. The World Medical Association, American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, and the American Psychiatric Association (APA) are among the many groups that have condemned the participation of health care providers in interrogation, torture, or force-feeding.

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.