First Do No Harm

This morning NPR reported that the American Psychiatric Association, the nation’s leading organization of psychiatrists, says the Pentagon has reneged on an agreement not to use psychiatrists in interrogations of detainees at Guantanamo and other detention sites. This is an ethical issue about whether mental health professionals can serve as instruments of interrogation. Professional groups of psychiatrists and psychologists cannot give orders to the Pentagon, but they can kick individual mental health professionals out of these groups if they violate policies – which could jeopardize their careers if state licensure boards were to find they violated ethical rules.

“Pentagon officials say the presence of psychologists and psychiatrists prevent what they call “behavioral drift” — the erosion of ethical norms that they say can spiral into a situation like Abu Ghraib, the prison in Iraq where detainees were abused by some U.S. troops.”

But, Dr. Nada L. Stotland, president of the American Psychiatric Association, says, “The use of psychiatrists to aid in interrogations is a serious violation of medical ethics and should be discontinued.”

“This is about the soul of a psychiatrist, which is to be dedicated to helping people and healing people,” she says. “And in order to do that, we need to get and we need to deserve their trust.”

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Published on September 26, 2008

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