Medical Doctors in Torture Program. The Need for Virtue Ethics in Medical Conscience Formation

In December 2014, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) released their analysis of the summary of the Committee Report of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program. PHR focused on the involvement of health care professionals in the CIA torture program, concluding that the health professionals’ commissions and omissions violated the prescriptions of many fundamental bioethical documents, including international declarations of bioethics and medical research ethics. The medical doctors’ involvement evokes some thoughts concerning bioethical education. It seems that instead of developing virtues through practicing morally good habits, the experience of clinical training undermines the moral ideals that medical students identified themselves with at the commencement of their medical education. The hostile response they sometimes get from their mentors when trying to question morally troubling situations may shape the habit of ‘turning a blind eye’ to unethical behaviour, since the students do not want to jeopardize their grades and future medical career. Maybe it was the development of this habit and the failure to develop the habit of moral courage instead  that prevented the medical doctors participating in torture programs from defending moral ideals of their profession more effectively.