“One Who Becomes Compassionate to the Cruel will Ultimately Become Cruel to the Compassionate”: Should Terrorists be given Medical Treatment?
This is the ethical issue that has, as yet, not been fully answered by international law or by consensus ethics. And yet the issue is certainly not hypothetical. If the journal is available to you, you must read the Target Article in the American Journal of Bioethics, October 2009 titled “Medical Care for Terrorists—To Treat or Not to Treat” by Gesundheit, Ash, Blazer and Rivkind. (It is followed by a series of comment articles by other ethicists). In the article, the authors, from Hadassah University Hospital (G, R), Rambaum Medical Center(B) and Israeli Defense Forces (A) present two cases for discussion, both Hamas terrorists, both severely injured and both given immediate and extensive medical and surgical treatment in the Israeli hospitals over 20 days and a year respectively with the costs borne by the hospitals.
The physicians and caregivers provided excellent management despite whatever their own feelings or views were regarding what these terrorists had already done to the public. The ethical principles of autonomy, beneficence and non-maleficence was observed and practiced in the care of these men. An ethical question which might now be raised is whether the fourth principle of justice was observed. In the triage of these critically ill terrorists to provide emergency management, there were other patients, civilians, who needed prompt attention for whom attention to them may have been delayed. Also, in terms of justice, shouldn’t the great financial cost of caring for both terrorists have been used instead to the care of non-terrorist sick civilians? There may be a debate as to the definition of “terrorist” and some may say that they were simply “criminals” but wouldn’t the indiscriminate killing of civilians for no specific purpose but only to terrorize the population be an adequate description. Both terrorists when recovered were handed over to the government, tried and convicted.
So should all the humanistic, professional and ethical standards which physicians take from their Hippocratic Oath and their profession be set aside when it comes to medical care for a terrorist? And should the medical profession bear in mind what was written in the Ecclesiastes Rabba 7:16 “One who becomes compassionate to the cruel will ultimately become cruel to the compassionate”?
What do you think? ..Maurice.