To the Editor:
Re: ("Professional terrorists," Op-ed, July 10),
While H.D.S. Greenway is correct in pointing out that doctors are not immune from being swept up in revolutionary causes, he appears to minimize the unique conflict created when physicians elevate their support of a cause to the level of violence. Society holds many professionals in esteem, and gives many professionals privileges, but physicians have been granted unique privileges by civil societies that allow them to enter into the most intimate domains of human interaction, to administer powerful remedies, and even to wield a scalpel therapeutically.
At the same time, society expects physicians to honor, among others, these basic ethical principles: to do no harm, and, in the words of the American Medical Association's first principle of medical ethics, to "be dedicated to providing competent medical care, with compassion and respect for human dignity and rights." These principles chiefly govern professional conduct, but the obligation to respect for human dignity and rights is not excused at the end of office hours. When physicians resort to violence as a means to an end, they violate the social covenant and, I would argue, cease to be physicians.
Dr. Scott Allen
The writer is an adviser to Physicians for Human Rights.