How must military medical ethics adapt to the realities of modern warfare?
February 15, 2013
Mark D. White
The latest issue of Bioethics (27/3, March 2013) features a brief but provocative paper by Steven H. Miles (University of Minnesota in Minneapolis) titled "The New Military Medical Ethics: Legacies of the Gulf Wars and the War on Terror":
United States military medical ethics evolved during its involvement in two recent wars, Gulf War I (1990–1991) and the War on Terror (2001–). Norms of conduct for military clinicians with regard to the treatment of prisoners of war and the administration of non-therapeutic bioactive agents to soldiers were set aside because of the sense of being in a ‘new kind of war’. Concurrently, the use of radioactive metal in weaponry and the ability to measure the health consequences of trade embargos on vulnerable civilians occasioned new concerns about the health effects of war on soldiers, their offspring, and civilians living on battlefields. Civilian medical societies and medical ethicists fitfully engaged the evolving nature of the medical ethics issues and policy changes during these wars. Medical codes of professionalism have not been substantively updated and procedures for accountability for new kinds of abuses of medical ethics are not established. Looking to the future, medicine and medical ethics have not articulated a vision for an ongoing military-civilian dialogue to ensure that standards of medical ethics do not evolve simply in accord with military exigency.
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