Is Medicine a Pacifist Vocation or Should Doctors Help Build Bombs?

  • Michael L. Gross
Part of the International Library of Ethics, Law, and the New book series (LIME, volume 41)

Ever since World War I, pacifists have found refuge in medicine. What is it about medicine that is so alluring to those who make nonviolence their creed? And, if pacifists are drawn to medicine in time of war, perhaps medicine has a natural affinity for pacifism? Is medicine a pacifist profession? Must doctors always avoid harming others or may they help build bombs?

Historically, weapons technology asked little of medicine so that military surgeons could ignore both questions and adhere to their “vocational pacifism” without seriously affecting military capabilities. But modern warfare is quickly forcing changes. Increasingly, military and political leaders are turning to a range of weapons, some lethal and some non-lethal, that require the knowledge peculiar to the practice of medicine. Medicine may shun weapons development, as many might prefer, but only by embracing pacifism. Pacifism, however, is not a doctrine that medicine can support with any degree of cogency or enthusiasm. As a result, the medical community must seriously ask itself whether it may take up arms in its professional capacity and use medical expertise to build weapons that harm others. Briefly addressed by the Red Cross in 1996, questions about “the medical profession and the effects of weapons” were soon set aside and remain unanswered.


Chemical Weapon Biological Weapon Medical Necessity Conscientious Objector Unnecessary Suffering 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer Science + Business Media B.V 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael L. Gross
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of International RelationsUniversity of HaifaIsrael

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