Turkey: international experts warn against criminalizing independent medical care in emergencies


(09.12.2013) GENEVA – The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Anand Grover, and the World Medical Association (WMA) urged today the Turkish Grand National Assembly (Meclis) to reconsider a draft law that would criminalize the provision of medical care by qualified independent practitioners during emergencies after the arrival of a state ambulance.

“If adopted, Article 33 will have a chilling effect on the availability and accessibility of emergency medical care in a country prone to natural disasters and a democracy that is not immune from demonstrations,” Special Rapporteur Grover said.

“Enacting laws and policies criminalizing provision of medical care to people challenging State authorities, such as political protestors, will certainly deter healthcare workers from providing services due to fear of prosecution,” Grover warned, quoting his latest report* to the UN General Assembly on the enjoyment of the right to health in conflict situations. “Sanctioning such laws and policies will also discourage other segments of the population from seeking health services due to fear of being suspected in the involvement in protests,” he stressed.

“The mere presence of ambulances would be considered grounds not only to prevent emergency medical care by competent, independent physicians, but also to prosecute those medical responders up to three years of imprisonment and a hefty administrative fine for acting under the International Code of Medical Ethics to provide care to those in need,” the WMA’s Secretary General, Otmar Kloiber, underlined.

Dr. Kloiber pointed out that “in times of urgency, from earthquakes to floods to protests and demonstrations, the international standards for emergency medical care are based on the medical need of the wounded and sick rather than the presence of official medical transport.”

The two experts noted that international medical and human rights standards make it clear that it is a humanitarian duty of doctors, nurses, paramedics, and other health workers to give emergency care to those in need. “They must be able to carry out their professional responsibilities without interference or fear of reprisal,” they said.

The Special Rapporteur and the WMA had written individually to the Turkish Government expressing their grave concern about the requirements of Article 33 of the draft health bill. “Now we urge the Meclis to consider the right of the Turkish people to emergency care and ensure the respect for medical ethics and independence health workers in Turkey.”

“We hope parliamentarians will make the right call on the Article 33 and scrap it, as it should be,” the experts said.

(*) Read the Special Rapporteur’s report on the right to health and conflict situations: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Health/Pages/AnnualReports.aspx