Top Medical Professionals Support NYS Anti-Torture Bill, Nation's First

For Immediate Release

When Healers Harm
Contact: 

Kate Nicholson, (714) 244-5441/knicholson@post.harvard.edu
Allen Keller, M.D., (973) 951-7570 /allen.keller@nyumc.org
Emily Whitfield, (917) 686-4542/emily@emilywhitfield.org

Top Medical Professionals Support NYS Anti-Torture Bill, Nation's First

Luminaries in Medicine Issue Statement Supporting First Bill in the Nation to Provide Accountability for Torture and Abuse by Health Professionals

WASHINGTON - In
a statement issued today, 16 leaders in the medical and health fields
-- including two Nobel Prize winners, former President George H.W.
Bush’s White House physician, and New York-based medical school deans
and hospital CEOs -- called for passage of a bill introduced by New York
State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and State Senator Tom Duane that
would provide for state disciplinary sanctions for health care
professionals who participate in torture or improper treatment of
prisoners.

“When a physician engages in conduct that deeply offends the
values of society or the profession, they are investigated and
disciplined,” the statement said.  “But no physician or other health
professional who engaged in the interrogation of prisoners has been held
accountable.  Equally concerning is that no state licensing agency has
initiated disciplinary action against health professionals who have so
profoundly violated their professional ethics and public trust.”  (The
full statement is pasted in below and online www.healersharm.org)

Assembly Bill A-6665-B
and Senate Bill S-4495-A is the
first legislation in the United States that would reinforce and
strengthen existing ethical and legal responsibilities by explicitly
prohibiting doctors and other health professionals licensed in the state
from assisting in torture and prisoner abuse and would remove health
professionals from all interrogations.   Furthermore, the legislation
provides health professionals with strong legal protection to resist and
report any participation in acts of torture and abuse.

On Tuesday, the Education Committee of the New York State
Assembly is expected to vote on the bill. Action is needed on the Senate
side as well in order to secure passage by the end of this year’s
session, according to Dr. Allen Keller, a leading supporter of the
legislation.

“New Yorkers have a right to know that their doctors don’t
participate in torture,” said Dr. Keller, Associate Professor of
Medicine at New York University School of Medicine and Director of the
Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture. “ I applaud these leaders
for speaking out on a central moral issue of our time.”

Leonard S. Rubenstein, a renowned medical ethics and human
rights expert and another leading supporter of the bill, said its
passage was needed to insure that the well-documented complicity and
direct participation of physicians, psychologists and other health
professionals in torture and abuse at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere will
not be repeated. 

“The ethical rules of the health professions have long
prohibited participation in torture, but there has never been a
mechanism for holding them accountable for violations.  This legislation
fills that critical gap,” said Rubenstein, a visiting scholar at the
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The bill follows ethical standards adopted by the American
Medical Association and American Psychiatric Association.  Dr. Paul
Appelbaum, who chaired the American Psychiatric Association committee
whose recommendations led to the standards, is one of the signatories on
the letter.

Specifically, the Gottfried/Duane bill:

•    Confirms that NY-licensed health professionals’ duty to do no harm
applies to their professional relationships with all patients and with
all employers;
•    Reaffirms that health professionals licensed in New York are
prohibited from involvement in torture or other abuse of prisoners,
wherever that abuse takes place;
•    Removes NY-licensed health professionals from interrogations; and
•    Helps NY-licensed health professionals resist unlawful orders that
could place them at risk of criminal prosecution and civil damages
lawsuits.

The text of the bill is online at http://whenhealersharm.org/pass-ny-anti-torture-bill

For further information, including a list of organizations endorsing the
bill, please visit:

www.whenhealersharm.org

www.stoptortureny.org

The full text of the statement follows:

Statement
in Support of Proposed Legislation to Establish Accountability for
Health Professionals who Engage In Torture or Ill Treatment of Prisoners
or Detainees

The undersigned express their strong support for a bill sponsored by New
York State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and State Senator Tom Duane
that would prohibit the participation of health care professionals in
torture and improper treatment of prisoners.

As physician leaders who are proud to be steeped in the Hippocratic
tradition of “do no harm” and are dedicated to the well-being of all
patients, we have been appalled by the behavior of doctors and other
medical personnel in the military and the CIA who served as designers,
enablers or monitors of torture.   We find equally abhorrent the
rationalization of such behavior by commanders and some health
professionals on the ground that medical personnel who witness or
monitor interrogation protect detainees from further harm.  The record
shows that in this untenable role they instead gave the go-ahead to
waterboarding, authorized long-term sleep deprivation, and approved and
monitored other forms of abuse.  It is for this reason that the American
Medical Association has been unequivocal in its opposition to
physicians’ participation in or monitoring of individual interrogations.

When a physician engages in conduct that deeply offends the values of
society or the profession, they are investigated and disciplined.  But
no physician or other health professional who engaged in the
interrogation of prisoners has been held accountable.  Equally
concerning is that no state licensing agency has initiated disciplinary
action against health professionals who have so profoundly violated
their professional ethics and public trust.

Because of its historic leadership in medical research, practice, and
education, New York should take the lead in demanding health
professionals’ adherence to ethical obligations and holding health
professionals accountable through licensing and disciplinary mechanisms
if they violate those norms.  A case can be made that existing law
provides a basis for disciplining doctors and other health professionals
who are complicit in torture, but the law should be explicit about the
consequences of engaging in such abhorrent practices.   

The New York Anti-Torture bill sets out health professionals'
obligations not to engage in torture or ill treatment, nor to
participate in interrogation, while permitting legitimate activities
such as assessments of competency and restraining prisoners when
necessary for safety.  Importantly, the bill, if enacted, puts everyone
on notice that violations of these obligations can result in charges of
professional misconduct, discipline, and license revocation.  

At the same time, the bill offers support for physicians working in
difficult environments to resist demands to participate in abuse.  

The bill is an important step in the process of restoring professional
values and promoting accountability for violations and we are proud to
support it.

Signatories

Paul Appelbaum, MD, Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Psychiatry,
Medicine & Law,
Columbia University, Past President of the American Psychiatric
Association and the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, former
Chair of the Council on Psychiatry and Law of the American Psychiatric
Association.

Jeremiah Barondess, MD, President Emeritus. New York Academy of
Medicine, Professor Emeritus of Clinical Medicine at the Cornell
University Medical College.

Dennis S. Charney, MD, Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Dean and Executive Vice
President for Academic Affairs, Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

Robert L Cohen, MD, member, NY City Board of Correction, former Director
of the Montefiore Rikers Island Health Service.

Kenneth L. Davis, MD, President and CEO, The Mount Sinai Medical
Center. 

Lee Goldman, MD, Executive Vice President for Health and Biomedical
Sciences and                                        Dean of the
Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine, Columbia University Medical
Center. 

H. Jack Geiger, MD, Arthur C. Logan Professor Emeritus of Community
Medicine at the City University of New York Medical School.

Antonio M. Gotto, Jr., MD, D.Ph., Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean and
Provost for Medical Affairs, Weill Cornell Medical College.

Eric Kandel, MD, Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Columbia
University College of Physicians and Surgeons and Senior Investigator in
the Howard Hughes Medical Institute;  winner of the Nobel Prize. 

Burton Lee, MD, White House physician to former President George H.W.
Bush.

David Muller, MD, Dean for Medical Education, Mount Sinai School of
Medicine.

John W. Rowe, MD, former President and CEO, Aetna U.S. Healthcare,
former president and CEO, Mt. Sinai NYU Health, President Emeritus, The
Mount Sinai Hospital and Mount Sinai Medical Center.

Steven M. Safyer, MD, President and CEO, Montefiore Medical Center.  

Allen M. Spiegel, M.D, Dean, Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Gerald Thomson,  MD Lambert and Sonneborn Professor of Medicine Emeritus
at Columbia University, former Chair of the American Board of Internal
Medicine, past President of the American College of Physicians.

Torsten Wiesel, MD, President Emeritus, Rockefeller University; winner
of the Nobel Prize.


Affiliations of signatories are for
identification only.

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