Indecent medicine: In defense of the absolute prohibition against physician participation in torture

Richard S. Matthews*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


In a recent article, Gross (2004) argues that physicians in decent societies have a civic duty to aid in the torturing of suspected terrorists during emergency conditions. The argument presupposes a communitarian society in which considerations of common good override questions of individual rights, but it is also utilitarian. In the event that there is a ticking bomb and no other alternative available for defusing it, torture must be used, and physicians must play their part. In an earlier article, Jones (1980) also argues in favour of physician participation in torture, going so far as to enthusiastically endorse the allocation of research resources as well to ensure that the ability to meet emergency situations is as efficient as scientifically possible. I argue against both these views and defend the absolute prohibition against torture generally, and against any participation by physicians in particular. I show that these arguments are incompatible with liberal or decent societies, and that the institutional requirements for making torture effective would constitute an unacceptable degradation both of medical ethics and practice, as well as of political institutions in general.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)W34-W44
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Journal of Bioethics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2006
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Indecent medicine: In defense of the absolute prohibition against physician participation in torture'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this