Introducing Medical Neutrality Protection Act of 2011
Hon.& Member’s Official Name:
Hon. Jim McDermott
Full Name of Congressional State:
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Member’s Name as it Appears in Official Record:
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to introduce bipartisan legislation called the Medical Neutrality Protection Act of 2011. In times of war and civil unrest, the independence of physicians and health care workers are often hindered, endangering their safety and limiting their ability to care for the wounded. I first became aware of this issue back in the 1980s during the civil war in El Salvador. The conflict ended in the early 1990s with over 75,000 people killed, some of whom were medical workers who were caught in combat or working in refugee camps. Then, as now, I was concerned that the United States was not doing enough to stop government forces from harming medical workers, who are some of the only unbiased eyewitnesses that we have on the ground.
While international humanitarian laws codify the concept of medical neutrality, we have seen systematic attacks against medical professionals by various armed forces over the last several months, particularly in the Middle East. Several independent human rights organizations — including Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch — have documented these abuses and are calling for more countries to address this disturbing trend.
This bill elevates the protection of medical professionals as a policy priority for U.S. government so that countries that attack doctors and shut hospitals will no longer be able to carry out business as usual. Under this Act, the Secretary of State will be required to maintain and regularly update a list of countries that violate medical neutrality. Countries on this list will not qualify for certain military assistance, and government officials from the violating countries will not be eligible for visas to travel to the United States. The bill also calls for the creation of a United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Protection and Promotion of Medical Neutrality.
Mr. Speaker, the issue of protecting doctors and access to medical care is not a partisan issue. This is a common sense bill that fills a void in foreign policy. I urge my colleagues to support it.