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Should a military doctor obey an order to not treat an enemy combatant? Or certify a sick soldier as fit to fight? Should a nurse take part in interrogations? Ride along on medical caravans to build trust with locals? Violate patient privacy for military ends? These and other questions are being studied by Canadian researchers with the Ethics in Military Medicine Research Group, led by University of Montreal bioethicist Bryn Williams-Jones with colleagues at McGill and McMaster universities.

 

Their latest paper, published in December in the winter issue of the Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, compares the ethics codes of the Canadian Medical Association and the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces. At issue: the ongoing debate over the “dual loyalty” of military healthcare professionals’ and whether the two codes – civilian and military – are “necessarily incompatible.”

 

“To put it bluntly, how can the military profession, whose mission of defending state interests can involve the use of deadly force, be compatible with the medical profession whose primary mission is to heal and save lives?” asks lead author Christiane Rochon. Her conclusion, with co-author Williams-Jones, her PhD thesis supervisor: The two codes are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they support each other, with the military one turning out to be even more comprehensive than the medical profession’s.

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