Last Friday, a team of PHR staff and members of the PHR chapter of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine visited Congressional offices to advocate for the Medical Neutrality Protection Act. This Act is a bipartisan bill introduced in May 2013 by Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA). Johns Hopkins medical students shared their personal experiences and their own relationship to medical neutrality, which is the principle that governments must respect the proper functions of health systems in times of conflict and other forms of unrest. Lobbying from office to office in their white coats, the students left a lasting impression on Representatives and their staff. Several offices indicated their willingness to support the Medical Neutrality Protection Act shortly after meeting with the students.
The students’ dedication to the issue of medical neutrality is rooted in the commitment to provide nondiscriminatory care to all in need, a promise made in the Hippocratic Oath. The students are personally driven to speak out when medical professionals around the world are harassed, arrested, or imprisoned for providing care.
The PHR lobby day came at a crucial time, as violations of medical neutrality have become favored tactics of oppressive regimes. PHR researchers have documented medical neutrality violations, including arrests of health workers and attacks on hospitals in several countries including Turkey, Bahrain, and Syria. The Medical Neutrality Protection Act is urgently needed to provide accountability mechanisms for these heinous acts. The bill fills a gap in international law by establishing accountability mechanisms for violations of medical neutrality, not only in times of conflict, but also in times of civil unrest. It authorizes the withholding of military assistance from governments committing attacks on health care, and keeps perpetrators from visiting the U.S.
PHR will continue pressing for the successful passage of the bill and encourages other PHR chapters to join in this effort.