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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

BU Ethicist Says Military Duties No Excuse for War Crimes

If a physician wants to put the military mission before his or her medical obligations to do no harm, by obeying an unlawful order, he or she must resign from practicing medicine, Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) professor Dr. George Annas argues in an editorial in the South African Medical Journal.

Dr. Annas examines the case of Dr. Wouter Basson, a South African cardiologist who was charged with violating medical ethics during the time he was in the military, directing secret projects to weaponize chemical and biological substances for warfare. The Professional Conduct Committee (PCC), charged with deciding whether he should retain his license to practice medicine, dismissed Basson’s arguments that his military obligations superseded his medical responsibilities, finding that “medical ethics during war and peace are identical.”

Preventing physicians who have engaged in crimes against humanity from practicing medicine is done not to punish them, Dr. Annas says, but to “protect the public and the medical profession.”

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