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Torture or Treatment?

2010 August 7

Torture or Treatment:Would You Participate?

Writing in Psychiatric Times for July 30, 2010, H. Steven Moffic, MD, raises the question, would you ever participate in torture? It may seem that this subject has been argued to death, but he puts it in a rather interesting “real world” context.
…..First of all, he notes that while the issue of the involvement of mental health professionals in interrogations at Guantanamo and elsewhere have received a great deal of attention, allegations of the use of electric shocks and other aversive techniques in the treatment of adults and children with disabilities living at a Massachusetts residential school (arguably also torture) have received far less attention.
…..He also points out a number of ambiguities in the anti-torture statements of each of the major organizations of the “helping professions.”

“All of this leaves me a bit–or maybe more than a bit–uneasy. How can a simple position statement do justice to the complexity of these situations? Why all the attention to military torture, as very few of us work in such settings, while the more common residential facilities for adolescents are ignored? What about jails and prisons, where mental health professionals commonly work, and where reports of inmate abuse are common?” 

Moffic has served in the military, and also works part time in a prison where, as he notes, “security is clearly the priority over healthcare.” However, he specializes in the treatment of refugees, many of whom suffer from PTSD.

“It is easy to claim the presumed high ethical ground when one is not involved in the real life situation at hand. It is also easy to project and proclaim strong positions in order to cover our own inadequacies and anxiety. So I try to imagine a scenario where I am put in the position of being asked–or ordered–to help out at an interrogation and I think (however erroneously) that my knowledge might help prevent the harm or death of a loved one, colleagues, or many soldiers or citizens. Should I always follow the position statement of the American Psychiatric Association, or justify an exception? What would you do under such circumstances?” 

If any of you want to offer your own answers to that question, please send us your comments.

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