Teaching Medical Students What is Torture and When to Disobey Orders
It would seem that based on the formal survey of medical students published the International Journal of Health Services, Volume 37, Number 4, Pages 643–650, 2007, currently medical students are unaware that later as physicians they can be drafted into the Armed Services of the United States if the need arises, many are unaware of the Geneva Convention requirements regarding care of the wounded or about torture and many are divided on what orders represent torture and what orders in the military they ethically would be obliged not to follow.
Amongst other elements of the survey, the students were asked under what circumstances an officer is ethically required to disobey a direct order from a superior:
1) When ordered to threaten a prisoner with injection of a psychoactive drug which will not actually be administered.
2) When ordered to inject a harmless bolus of saline into a prisoner who fears he is receiving a lethal injection.
3) When ordered to inject a lethal drug into a prisoner.
According to the article “over 27 percent of respondents thought that the only scenario in which they were ethically required to disobey was when asked to inject a lethal drug into a prisoner; over 6 percent felt that none of these scenarios required them to disobey and 66.1 percent correctly answered 'all of the above.'"
“...only a small percentage of respondents had received any instruction in
military medical ethics. About 94 percent had received less than 1 hour of
instruction during medical school about the ethical obligations of physicians
serving in the military. Just over 4 percent had received between 1 and 5 hours
of instruction, and 1.5 percent reported receiving more than 5 hours of teaching about these matters."
If you were setting up the curriculum for a medical student’s education, would you include military ethics? What standards of a physician’s behavior which a physician should follow would you expect to be taught? Would you teach about a physician disobeying a military order and, if so, under what circumstances? ..Maurice.