No Exceptionalism Needed to Treat Terrorists

American Journal of Bioethics 9 (10):53-54 (2009)
Gesundheit and colleagues offer dramatic examples of the medical treatment of terrorists but then pose the suggestion that those who engage in terrorism forfeit their right to medical care, and, consequently, that physicians have no obligation to treat them. Their argument presupposes that a physician’s obligation to provide medical care depends on the patients’ right to health care. Therefore, someone who commits heinous and abhorrent acts thereby waives the right to health care and the physicians’ duty to provide health care might consequently be absolved. This view may appeal to physicians who have experienced the complexity and discomfort of treating someone whose morality or even humanity they question, such as a rapist, a serial killer, or a perpetrator of genocide. However we have grounds to believe that the duty of physicians to treat is not based on the moral worth of patients, but rather on the duties that physicians have, and this notion renders any concern about the unacceptability of any person’s behavior irrelevant in determining whether to provide treatment. We will first argue that not all duties are directly derived from rights, and then illustrate how deontological views, along with common views on the role morality of physicians, provide a basis for offering indiscriminate medical care. Second, we will discuss the physician’s role in the context of war, and offer one compelling moral reason on the basis of which warfare norms do indeed obligate physicians to extend their duty to care toward enemies, terrorists included, independently of whatever right they maintain.
Keywords torture  complicity  medical duties
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DOI 10.1080/15265160902998814
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