Tyranny and war have always brought out the noblest and the most reprehensible
in human conduct. This is particularly true for physicians, whose ancient
code of beneficence toward the sick is severely tested when medical knowledge
is used for military and political purposes as well as for healing.1 The survey of physician participation in human rights
abuses in southern Iraq reported by Reis and colleagues2 in
this issue of THE JOURNAL is another painful reminder of how physicians may
violate the most rudimentary ethical duties under the exigencies of war or
despotic national rule. Its methodological shortcomings notwithstanding, the
study reveals, once again, how often ruthlessly tyrannical regimes suborn
the uses of medical knowledge for execrable ends.
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