International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

U.S. Health Professionals’ Call to Prevent Torture

Posted 1 October 2005 in StressPoints by Eric Aronson, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

The official statement released by ISTSS this summer on the practice of torture in the modern world (see Traumatic StressPoints, Summer 2005), represents an important scientific perspective, with implications for public policy and the prevention of trauma. The statement explicitly declares that the ISTSS mission “includes the condemnation of all forms of torture” (page 1), and that “we reject any justification for the use of torture” (page 5).

The ISTSS statement also points out that health professionals have a particular ethical obligation in terms of trauma prevention, with respect to the use of torture against detainees and prisoners; our work must be guided by human rights principles.”

It is such principles, as specified by the United Nations in its medical ethics guidelines (http://www.cirp.org/library/ethics/UN-medical-ethics), that ISTSS has endorsed because of its commitment to trauma prevention. The statement makes particular reference to the principle that it is grossly unethical for health professionals to participate in torture, either actively or passively. This is especially relevant because human rights organizations recently have reported the systematic use of torture or other abusive and degrading treatment in some U.S. facilities.

The U.S. Health Professionals’ Call to Prevent Torture and Abuse of Detainees in U.S. Custody (http://www.phrusa.org/research/torture/call_2005-06-21.html) is an opportunity for U.S. health professionals to take a public stand in opposing torture, and to support efforts to end the participation of health professionals in the practice of torture and abuse against U.S. detainees and prisoners. It insists that medical training include the ethical issues of torture and treatment of prisoners of war. It also calls for adequate, impartial investigations into the use of torture in U.S. facilities.

The ISTSS Executive Committee recently agreed to add ISTSS as a signatory to the U.S. Health Professionals’ Call to Prevent Torture of Detainees in U.S. Custody. This action is consistent with the ISTSS statement against torture, as well as with the society’s mission of trauma prevention. I would encourage ISTSS members to do the same.

Eric Aronson is Northeast Regional Refugee Coordinator of Amnesty International USA, and is a former co-chair of the ISTSS Human Rights and Social Policy SIG. He can be reached at earonson@earthlink.net.