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PHR Unveils Anti-Torture Pledge for Health Professionals

Health professionals in the United States sign on to PHR initiative rejecting torture in all its forms

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today launched a pledge for health professionals across the United States to stand together in their rejection of torture, voicing the consensus that torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment are absolutely prohibited in all circumstances. Already the list of signers includes Nobel laureates in medicine, former surgeons general, prison physicians, leaders of health professional organizations, and medical ethicists who pledge never to collude in torture under any circumstances, in keeping with the ethical codes of their professions.

“At a time when human rights are increasingly under threat, we’ve launched this pledge to marshal the powerful voices of health professionals across the United States and reaffirm their ethical duties to honor human dignity,” said PHR’s executive director, Donna McKay. “After 9/11, health professionals were enlisted in carrying out and providing legal cover for torture, practices which President Trump has repeatedly expressed an openness to reintroducing as U.S. policy. This pledge is an opportunity for all health professionals to rally together and say we will never go back to those shameful times.”

For more than a decade, PHR and its network of partners have led efforts advocating against torture, documented the devastating long-term health consequences of torture, and called attention to the complicity of some health professionals in the post-9/11 U.S. torture program. The online pledge commits health professionals to never support or participate in torture, to demand that the U.S. government uphold the absolute legal prohibition against torture, and to urge their respective professional organizations to enforce ethical standards and investigate allegations of abuse. The pledge also serves as a declaration of support for health professionals who resist orders to torture or inflict harm.

“After 9/11, some health professionals worked with U.S. intelligence and military officials to design and even carry out the systematic torture and abuse of national security detainees, a gross breach of ethics and morality,” said PHR’s director of programs, Dr. Homer Venters. “Health professionals are ethically bound to promote healing and prevent suffering. Torture is antithetical to the role of health professionals. It degrades the health and dignity of human beings and inflicts profound harm not only on victims, families, and communities, but also on perpetrators, institutions, and broader society. Health professionals have the opportunity to form a critical line of defense against such abominable practices and prevent the United States from backsliding into the moral and legal morass that defined the torture program.”

The public pledge is now open for all U.S. health professionals to sign online, and already many of the country’s leading voices on medicine, ethics, health, and national security have added their names. The current list of signatories includes former U.S. surgeons general David Satcher and Boris Lushniak, President of the American Nurses Association Pamela F. Cipriano, bioethicist Arthur Caplan, Dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Michael J. Klag, CEO of the American Nurses Association Enterprise Marla J. Weston, Nobel Laureate Peter Agre, psychiatrist and author Robert Jay Lifton, as well as other health professionals, bioethicists, and clinicians committed to ending torture once and for all.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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