Medical Neutrality and Political Activism: Physicians' Roles in Conflict Situations
Physicians in conflict situations juggle myriad duties and experience many ethical dilemmas in caring for the sick and wounded. Issues of how to triage care, allocate resources, and knowledge of injustices committed against patients by warring parties are among these concerns. Medical neutrality-care given based on criteria of medical need and urgency-has been strongly instantiated as a core value in the moral fabric of medicine and international medical ethics. Yet, physician political neutrality or activism regarding war crimes and injustices against people wartime physicians serve has been met with controversy. Medical neutrality, political neutrality, and political activism can be construed as types of moral goods in the practice of medicine. I argue that medical neutrality in the provision of care and political neutrality in conflict situations are not equivalent goods. Physicians have duties to provide care on the basis of medical neutrality, but they also have an obligation to be politically active in certain conflict situations and report allegations and abuses revealed during either the clinical encounter or in the field.
KeywordsPolitical Activism Medical Neutrality World Medical Association Conflict Situation Moral Duty
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