Tony Greenstein | 08 March 2016 | Post Views:

Ironically the WMA resolution on the Prohibition of Doctors’ Involvement in Torture was passed in Israel where doctors freely participate in torture, with the blessing of the Israeli and World Medical Association

This letter below is from the electronic edition of
the British Medical Journal from retired consultant physician Dr Chris
Burns-Cox and consultant psychiatrist Dr Derek Summerfield of the Institute of

Dr Derek Summerfield
Dr Chris  Burns-Cox

It concerns the deliberate turning of a blind eye by
the World Medical Association, whose President is British doctor Sir Michael Marmot,
to the complicity of Israeli doctors in the torture of Palestinian
prisoners.  Just as with the involvement
of American doctors in CIA torture, the WMA neither sees, hears or says

If  you are a
doctor and interesting in joining the 71 British doctors who, earlier this
year, submitted a complaint to the WMA please contact [email protected]
The Israeli Medical Association Condones and Approves of Israeli Doctors’ Participation in Torture and Openly Refuses to Listen to Evidence From Those Who Are Tortured

The campaign about doctors and torture in Israel five years on

Yoram Blachar – Israeli President of WMA – consistently supported IMA’s complicity with torture

is 20 years since Amnesty International concluded that Israeli doctors working
with the security services “form part of a system in which detainees are
tortured, ill-treated and humiliated in ways that place prison medical practice
in conflict with medical ethics”. (1) In 2009 725 physicians from 43 countries
appealed to the World Medical Association (WMA), the official international
watchdog for medical ethics, attaching a raft of more recent evidence from
reputable human rights organisations which supported Amnesty’s conclusions, and
pointed to the studied refusal of the Israeli Medical Association (IMA) to take
action. The IMA is a WMA member and at the time the WMA President was the IMA President
Yoram Blachar. The WMA refused even to acknowledge the submission and it became
clear that the WMA would not act against the IMA under any circumstances.(2)

write as lead signatory (CB-C) and convenor (DS) of a fresh submission made in
January this year by 71 UK doctors to the WMA, attaching a comprehensive report
from the Israeli organisation Physicians for Human Rights (PHRI), with detailed
case studies showing the complicity of Israeli doctors working in security
units in which torture of Palestinian detainees was routine.(3) The BMJ has
previously reported on this.(4) We also submitted a study published last
November which showed that sexual torture too was endemic.(5) Why are the
doctors posted to these units not protecting the detainees and protesting, and
why has the IMA never acted on such reports, as required to do by the WMA
Declaration of Tokyo? The new WMA President is the UK medical academic Sir
Michael Marmot, and we looked to him to bring his international reputation to
bear on a case that has been a standing reproach to the idea that global
regulation of the ethical behaviour of doctors is even-handed and effective.
sent us an acknowledgement of receipt on 18 January. Within days, alerted by
various reports of an IMA victory, we were staggered to see on the website of
the Simon Wiesenthal Centre ( a letter from the WMA President on
WMA notepaper, dated 25 January.(6) Written to Dr Shimon Samuels, Director for
International Relations at the Centre, Marmot said that our allegations had
been sent to the IMA for comment but at the same time exonerated them in
respect of our earlier unanswered complaints. He wrote that
“investigations have revealed no wrong doing . . . by the Israeli Medical
Association”. We are not aware that any proper investigations have been carried
out either by the WMA or, for that matter, the IMA. On the contrary, for many
years the PHRI have tried to get the IMA to conduct such an investigation but
found the IMA consistently unwilling. As they concluded in ‘Doctoring the
Evidence, Abandoning the Victim: the Involvement of Medical Professionals in
Torture and Ill-treatment in Israel’, “persistently repeated requests calling
the IMA’s attention to cases arousing suspicion of doctors’ involvement in
torture and cruel or degrading treatment, have not been dealt with
substantively.” PHRI noted that IMA ethical codes privileged a duty to assist
the security services ahead of duty to the patient.(3)
added that the IMA “have repeatedly affirmed their commitment to the policies
and positions taken by the WMA”. This is to take verbal assurances at face
value and the evidential record appears to say otherwise, and consistently so
since Amnesty’s 1996 verdict. In the era of evidence-based medicine, why does
evidence from authoritative sources not count? The WMA has refused further
has accorded the IMA once again the support and approval of the WMA, and of
himself as President. He has done so without examination of the evidence, old
and new, to which we (and PHRI) point. This is good news for the IMA, but bad
news for Israeli doctors thrust into ethically compromised roles, and bad news
for Palestinian detainees with little to protect them.
WMA itself risks being morally complicit in this misconduct. The WMA website
carries Marmot’s inaugural speech in Moscow last September. In it he affirmed
that “the WMA upholds the highest ethical standards of the practice of
medicine”. Involvement of doctors in torture is a matter of unsurpassed gravity
for the reputation of the medical profession, the WMA, and now of Michael
Marmot himself. We again call on the WMA for a thorough and transparent
examination of the evidence conducted by neutral parties.

Amnesty International. “Under constant medical supervision”, torture,
ill-treatment and the health professions in Israel and the Occupied
Territories. London: Amnesty International, 1996.

2. Meyers A, Summerfield D. The campaign about doctors and torture in Israel
two years on. BMJ 2011;343:d5223.

3. Public Committee Against Torture in Israel/ Physicians for Human
Rights-Israel. Doctoring the Evidence, Abandoning the Victim: the Involvement
of Medical Professionals in Torture and Ill-treatment in Israel. 2011.

4. Gulland A. Doctors in Israeli detention facilities are complicit in torture,
says report. BMJ 2011;343:d7200.

5. Weishut D. Sexual torture of Palestinian men by Israeli authorities.
Reproductive Health Matters doi: 10.1016/j.rhm.2015.11.019.

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Tony Greenstein

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