Declaration on Medics' Role in Torture Needs Updating

Role of medical personnel in interrogation should be clarified to avoid complicity in torture
By Jane Parry
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Jan. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Despite the fact that the Declaration of Tokyo condemns the participation of medical personnel in torture and inhumane treatment, there are key areas in which the declaration should be strengthened, according to an article published in the Jan. 24 issue of The Lancet.

Steven H. Miles, M.D., of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and Alfred M. Freedman, of New York Medical College in New York City, write that the declaration should provide clearer definitions of torture and abuse to avoid creating legal loopholes for prisoner abuse, and should be more explicit in its guidance on recording of abuse-related trauma.

The declaration should also enshrine criminal and professional liability, with no statute of limitations, for any physician abetting prisoner abuse, and should be written in language that is simple enough for a person with 12 years' education to understand, rather than the current more linguistically complex form, the authors state.

"The medical community is key to the campaign against torture," Miles and Freedman write. "Governments that practice torture need complicity of prison medical personnel. Furthermore, a profound link exists between domestic torture and worldwide medical solidarity against torture. A physician community that acquiesces to abuses by its members undermines its credibility in protesting against foreign medical communities or colleagues who abet torture."

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