WMA urges Respect for Physicians' Professional Independence in Georgian Conflict

An urgent plea to both sides in the Georgian conflict to respect the professional independence of physicians has been made by the World Medical Association.

In an emergency statement, the WMA reiterated its policy on armed conflict that physicians must be granted access to patients, medical facilities and equipment and the protection needed to carry out their professional activities freely. Necessary assistance, including unimpeded passage and complete professional independence, must be granted.

The statement added that hospitals and health care facilities situated in the war regions must be respected by combatants and media personnel. Health care given to the sick and wounded, civilians or combatants, cannot be used for morbid publicity or propaganda. The privacy of the sick, wounded and dead must always be respected.

Dr. Otmar Kloiber, secretary general of the WMA, said: ‘The association has long standing policy stating unequivocally that medical ethics in times of armed conflict is identical to medical ethics in times of peace.

‘This means that if, in performing their professional duty, physicians have conflicting loyalties, their primary obligation is to their patients; in all their professional activities, physicians should adhere to international conventions on human rights, international humanitarian law and WMA declarations on medical ethics.

‘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. This obligation includes a requirement to protect health care personnel.

‘We urgently hope that a negotiated peace settlement can be implemented as soon as possible’.