Author's reply to Israeli Medical Association Response

Derek Summerfield

Principal psychiatrist Medical Foundation for Care of Victims of Torture, London NW5 3EJ

BMJ 1996;313:630 (7 September)

EDITOR,--I am pleased that the Israeli Medical Association has responded to my comments. Its letter, however, is the standard letter that it has sent to Amnesty International and others who have challenged it; this risks being seen as formulaic in the light of the association's continuing passivity on the question of torture. The association has taken no proactive steps in relation to the everyday presence of Israeli doctors in detention centres and prisons, where torture has been institutionalised for many years. Last year it even argued to a medical mission from Amnesty International that some of these doctors were Russian immigrants who were not members of the association. It chooses not to campaign against torture as an instrument of state policy (as the Israeli Palestinian Physicians for Human Rights has done) or to publicise the effects of torture on physical and mental health. What kind of ethical leadership is this?

Last March the BMA's council moved that failure by a national medical association to take appropriate action on doctors' involvement in torture and to present regular reports of its activities in this respect should lead to expulsion from the World Medical Association.1 Amnesty International is calling on national and international medical associations to take a much more proactive stance in combating abuses of human rights.2 Amnesty is critical of current codes of conduct, such as the World Medical Association's Declaration of Tokyo, for implying that mere non-participation in such abuses is sufficient to meet the moral requirements of the Hippocratic Oath. At present the Israeli Medical Association does not seem to be in a position to pass any of these tests.

DEREK SUMMERFIELD Principal psychiatrist Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, London NW5 3EJ



  1. Beecham L. BMA re-emphasises condemnation of torture. BMJ 1996;312:711. (16 March.) [Free Full Text]
  2. Dyer O. Amnesty highlights doctors' duty to report torture. BMJ 1996;312:1377. (1 June.) [Free Full Text]
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