Health and Human Rights Journal (HHR), a collaboration between the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights and Harvard University Press, is an open access, online-only publication dedicated to scholarship and practice that advance health as an issue of human rights and social justice. Visit HHR »
The involvement of health professionals in human rights and humanitarian law violations has again become a live issue as a consequence of the U.S. prosecution of conflicts with al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Iraq. Health professionals-including MDs trained in psychiatry and PhDs trained in behavioral psychology-have reportedly advised and assisted in coercive interrogation. Health professionals have also been involved in forced feedings. Such practices would not be unique to the United States nor the most extreme forms of abuse in the world. The direct involvement of medical professionals in torture, covering up extrajudicial killings, and other extreme conduct is a phenomenon common to many societies and periods of national crisis. Indeed, the widespread and repeated nature of this problem has led to the development of important legal and ethical codes on the subject. Those codes, however, are notoriously insufficient in many cases. A reexamination of the international norms, as developed in human rights law, humanitarian law, and professional ethics can shed light on these issues. However, in addition to those instruments, the struggle to end such violations requires understanding human behavior and the role of formal and informal institutional pressures. In this volume, a wide range of prominent practitioners and scholars explore these issues. Their insights provide significant potential for reforming institutions to assist health professionals maintain their legal and ethical obligations in times of national crisis.