World Medical Association clarifies its ethical advice to physicians on torture

The World Medical Association has clarified its advice to physicians on the issue of torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of detainees and prisoners.

At its Council meeting in Divonne-les-Bains, France, the WMA agreed to revise the Declaration of Tokyo to remind physicians to be particularly careful to ensure the confidentiality of all personal medical information when providing medical assistance to detainees or prisoners facing interrogation.

The guidelines state that physicians should not allow their medical knowledge or information about individuals to facilitate any interrogation, whether legal or illegal. The WMA also clarified advice in its Regulations in Times of Armed Conflict about physicians facing conflicting loyalties, confirming that their primary obligation is to their patients and that in all their professional activities, physicians should adhere to international conventions on human rights, international humanitarian law and WMA declarations on medical ethics.

Dr Yoram Blachar, chair of the WMA Council, said:

'We hope that these revised guidelines will help physicians about what they can and cannot do in times of armed conflict and in other circumstances. Physicians must not condone, facilitate or participate in the practice of torture or any form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. They must also not use their medical knowledge to violate human rights and civil liberties.

'It is important that everyone recognises that medical ethics in times of armed conflict are identical to medical ethics in times of peace.'


*Torture is defined in WMA policies as the deliberate, systematic or wanton infliction of physical or mental suffering by one or more persons acting alone or on the orders of any authority, to force another person to yield information, to make a confession or for any other reason'.