Physicians' ethical Duty in Times of armed Conflict reiterated

The medical duty on all physicians to treat people with humanity and respect in times of armed conflict has been reiterated by the World Medical Association at its annual General Assembly in Tokyo.

WMA delegates from 40 countries agreed to amend the organisation's policy on physicians' ethical behaviour to emphasise that medical ethics in times of armed conflict are identical to medical ethics in times of peace.

The policy clearly states that it is unethical for physicians to give advice or perform procedures that are not justifiable for the patient's health care or that weaken the physical or mental strength of a human being without therapeutic justification.

The WMA's policy declares that research involving experimentation on human subjects is strictly forbidden on all people deprived of their liberty, especially civilian and military prisoners and the population of occupied countries. The physician must always give the required care impartially and without discrimination on the basis of creed, ethnic origin, gender, nationality, political affiliation, race, sexual orientation or social standing.

The policy also declares that governments, armed forces and others in positions of power should comply with the Geneva Conventions to ensure that physicians and other health care professionals can provide care to everyone in need in situations of armed conflict. Physicians must be granted access to patients, medical facilities and equipment and the protection needed to carry out their professional activities freely.

Commenting on the amended regulations, Dr Yoram Blachar, chairman of the WMA Council, said: 'In today's world it is more important than ever that physicians recognise their ethical responsibilities in times of armed conflict. They are often faced with enormously difficult situations and I hope that these guidelines will help them abide by the highest ethical standards of the medical profession'.