Editor's Note Regarding "Was There Physician Complicity in State-Sponsored Human Torture in Guantanamo, Iraq, and Afghanistan? An Invitation for Military Physicians to Speak Out"


October 08, 2004

Medscape General Medicine received 39 letters in response to a Webcast Video Editorial (WVE).[1] Ten could be classified as positive, 22 negative, and 7 neutral. We asked many letter writers for permission to consider their letters for publication. Many declined to have their work shared beyond the editor's eyes. Many others gave early permission to consider for publication, but later declined to sign written copyright authorship responsibility forms when requested. Today we publish 7 letters, a selection that provides some sense of the flavor of the experiences and opinions of the readers. The topic stirred strong feelings among many readers. Many expressed outrage at us, even asking the questions; some stated that there were clearly separated lines of reporting between the military medical and line officers that would ensure accurate reporting and prevent retribution; some alleged a partisan political motive; some harshly impugned the patriotism of the editor. One letter writer pledged to join the "9th Crusade" to kill Muslims. There were heartwarming news stories of American physicians caring for injured Iraqi civilians. One retired military medical officer described a flagrant breach of medical ethics by line officers that he had observed during the first Gulf War, wrote it for publication, but at the last minute withdrew approval, citing fear of retribution against a family member currently on active duty. Another active duty medical officer, fearing to commit any details to email, by telephone described by name, place, and date instances of severe retribution by line officers against medical officers who functioned as "whistle-blowers" on breaches of medical ethics and practice.

We thank all correspondents who wrote to us and we praise those who were willing to let us publish their letters with or without their names. We believe that they are serving the best interests of the medical profession, all of our patients inside and outside of a war zone, and their country.[2] Their words speak for themselves. Medscape has already responded to LTC Morrison's request for assistance in upgrading libraries of Iraqi medical schools. Our Nursing Editor, Susan Yox, established a campaign for this worthy cause many months ago.

One day removed from our August 20, 2004 WVE, Steven Miles of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, published a related article in The Lancet.[3] On September 27, 2004, American Medical News reported that the World Medical Association has posted a new course called "Doctors working in prison: human rights and ethical dilemmas.[4]" The Ethics Resource Center of the American Medical Association has published a September theme issue on medicine and human rights.[5] The October 7, 2004 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine contains 7 letters responding to the Lifton article and a response from the author. As of October 3, 2004, The American Society of Bioethics and Humanities has not received a response from the Bush Administration to the letter that they submitted in August 2004.[1]


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