Concern for World Medical Association ethics

Concern over just how ethical the international watch dog on medical ethics really is has come to a head in recent weeks following the appointment of the World Medical Association’s chairman.

Dr Summerfield: Blachar chairing World Medical Association council is a mockery
Dr Summerfield: Blachar chairing World Medical Association council is a mockery

Longstanding Israeli Medical Association President Yoram Blachar was elected as chairman by the WMA council in Divonne-les-Bains, France, last May despite well founded criticism over many years of a terrible IMA track record.

Derek Summerfield, an honorary senior lecturer at King’s College, London, believes the British Medical Association should now withdraw from the WMA in protest.

“For Blachar to now take up the chairmanship of the WMA Council is to reduce things to a mockery of what was intended when the WMA was created in 1947.”

Blachar has condemnded the allegations as politically motivated, in numerous publications, and condemns any form of torture.

Human rights criticism

But even as far back as 1996, Amnesty International concluded 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.”

Other major human rights organisations, such as Physicians for Human Rights (Israel and USA) and Human Rights Watch have published similar allegations against the IMA.

All the IMA has done when challenged is to dismiss criticism as “political” and point to their membership of the WMA as evidence of their probity.

Moreover, Blachar is on record in the Lancet as defending “moderate physical pressure” during the interrogation of Palestinian detainees.

Is the baby sick enough to crossthe checkpoint?Is the baby sick enough to crossthe checkpoint?

Is the baby sick enough to cross
the checkpoint?

It is not often that the president of a national medical association uses a medical journal to defend what the rest of the world and the UN Committee Against Torture regarded as torture, says Summerfield.


The IMA have been in violation of the WMA’s Declaration of Tokyo, which forbids the involvement or collusion of doctors with torture or other cruel, inhuman, and degrading procedures. But the IMA head is now chairing the WMA.

The WMA has consistently chosen to ignore the mass of documentation pointing this way.

During an interview in 1999 with a delegation from the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, London, the then head of ethics of the IMA, Professor Dolev, stated openly that “a couple of broken fingers” during the interrogation of Palestinians was a price worth paying for information.

This was sent to Delon Human, WMA secretary general, whose response was telling if completely inadequate.

WMA response

He wrote to Summerfield in October 2001 to say, “I must come to the defence of the IMA in affirming that they are co-signatories of the WMA Declaration of Tokyo. They have been active collaborators in the WMA’s continued struggle to eradicate torture of any kind in prisons or other settings all over the world”

“A couple of broken fingers” during the interrogation of Palestinians is a price worth paying for information.

Professor E Dolev,
head of ethics at the IMA

He later added that he had spoken to Blachar, already a WMA council member.

Blachar had reassured him that the IMA had done nothing wrong and had shown him “classified material,” presumably from military sources. It is preposterous that Human was satisfied by this, says Summerfield.

The other major ethical issue is medical neutrality.

Targetting ambulances

The blatant and apparently systemic disregard shown by the Israeli defence force during its reoccupation of the West Bank has been widely reported.

There have been over 230 attacks on Palestinian ambulances since the beginning of the Intifada, says Summerfield. Crews have been shot dead, sometimes after the ambulances had been cleared for safe passage.

The International Committee of the Red Cross and other aid agencies are obliged to limit activities in the West Bank as a result of threats to staff and attacks on vehicles and officers.

Severely injured Palestinians die of blood loss because their relatives are not permitted by Israeli soldiers to take them to hospital.

Seconds later, one Palestinian ambulance will be damaged the other completely flattened

Seconds later, one Palestinian
ambulance will be damaged the
other completely flattened

The safe passage of emergency supplies of food and medicines is blocked, in addition to the wilful destruction of water supplies, electric power, and the public health and medical infrastructure.

Blachar’s response to an editorial in the Lancet last year on these events makes his and the IMA position clear, according to the King’s College lecturer.

Bar a one sentence reference to the principle of medical neutrality, he emphatically attacked the editorial en bloc and unconditionally defended the behaviour of the Israeli army.

Blachar response

Rejecting Summerfield’s IMA attack, Blachar said he would never distinguish the tragedy of any civilian death.
What he does say, however, is “that the deaths of Israeli civilians are intentional, cold-blooded attacks whereas deaths of Palestinian civilians occur when terrorists take cover in civilian areas, putting such civilians in the line of fire.”

The WMA chairman added that IDF soldiers did the best they could to uphold human rights under very difficult conditions of constant resistance attacks (including numerous “near-attacks”) on Israeli civilians.

“Summerfield’s concern for human life and human rights disappears when Israelis are the victims.”

Israeli human rights 

Policing in the West Bank, Israelistyle

Policing in the West Bank, Israeli

A recently published report by Physicians for Human Rights Israel states that “we believed that the IMA might be able to curb the appalling deterioration in the attitude of Israeli military forces towards Palestinian health and rescue services.”

“Yet, despite severe injury to medical personnel and to the ability of physicians to act in safety to advance their patients’ interests, despite Israeli shells that have fallen on Palestinian hospitals, despite the killing of medical personnel on duty-IMA has chosen to remain silent.”

The IMA has refused to answer any of PHR’s detailed complaints, though a meeting was held in July.

Hadas Ziv of PHR Israel charged in the Lancet recently that the IMA was merely an executive arm of the Israeli establishment, working to support political imperatives rather than serving universal medical ethics.

It seems to many that it is PHR Israel not the IMA who are the upholders in Israel of what the WMA exists for.

Source : Al Jazeera

More from News
Most Read