For Immediate Release
In its latest attempt to harass medical professionals and the injured demonstrators they treat, the government of Turkey is considering a health bill that would criminalize certain aspects of emergency medical care and force doctors to compromise their professional duty to treat those in need.
The bill would criminalize independent medical care by qualified practitioners throughout Turkey and provide the Ministry of Health with unprecedented control over health care practices. Article 33 of the draft bill calls for emergency care to be provided “until the arrival of formal health services,” which means the presence of a state ambulance at a demonstration could bar medical professionals from providing care. Under the bill, doctors and other health workers would be subject to fines and even prison time for providing care when it is most needed.
“This bill is clearly part of the Turkish government’s efforts to harass the medical community for treating demonstrators injured during last summer’s protests,” said Dr. Vincent Iacopino, senior medical advisor at Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). “Emergency medical care must be provided based on people’s urgent health needs, not some arbitrary rules about the presence or absence of a state ambulance. This bill would not only force doctors to abandon their ethical duty to provide care for those in need, but could also have dire consequences for anyone in urgent need of medical assistance.”
The bill conflicts with international standards and medical ethics, as well as the Turkish Penal Code, which makes it a crime for doctors to neglect their duty to provide emergency medical care. Last week, PHR, the World Medical Association, the British Medical Association, and other leading medical groups sent a letter to Turkey’s minister of health asking him to eliminate Article 33 from the bill and exclude any provisions that would undermine independent and non-discriminatory care. A parliamentary commission accepted the bill late last week, and it could go to the General Assembly as early as Thursday.
At least five civilians died and more than 8,000 injuries were reported in the violent police crackdown that followed the peaceful protests over the government’s plan to raze Istanbul’s Gezi Park in late May.
PHR investigators were in Turkey over the summer and issued a report documenting the government’s unlawful use of force and tear gas and the deliberate attacks on the medical community. The report discussed the authorities’ detentions of medical staff treating those injured by the police, as well as attacks on mobile infirmaries. PHR also learned that government officials were collecting names of injured demonstrators and the medical personnel who were treating them.
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.