A Torturous Decision

…because the human torture pics were too ghastly…











“When is Torture OK?” – The  topic for Week 4 of the Professional Ethics Course.

Wow.  This is an ugly topic.  Just browsing for an image to use for the post left me feeling disgusted by humans.  I literally had to walk away from my computer.  As a race we are capable of such beauty and good, and yet there is such a tendency towards evil and the macabre. But here we go…

Torture = “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession,”  The UN’s Convention Against Torture.

The Convention also declares: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture.”

So when it comes to torture I feel that there are 2 important questions that need answering:

1.  Is torture EVER right? Are there certain circumstances where torture is allowed or morally correct?

With the previous week’s topic of Equality so fresh in my mind I tend to agree with Mohammed after reading his post. He says there may be reasons for torture but that no situation ever justifies torture. No one ever WANTS to be tortured (maybe some with strange fetishes?) and if the situation were turned around, the torturer would not not want to be in the tortured’s shoes.  In Mary’s post, she answers the questions posed for the week in pretty much the same way I would.  Her argument is that “the ends never justify the means”, that torture is wrong – and stays wrong even if something good comes from it.  A thought-provoking, opposing view can be found here, even though it didn’t change my mind.  In terms of medical professionals ignoring the Hippocratic Oath and justifying their lies, cover ups and wrong-doings by citing the common good, hmm.  I don’t know if they truly believe they are doing the “right” thing for their country, or if deep down they know it’s wrong but just push it to the back of their minds.

Is Physiotherapy akin to torture?  Some of my patients would say yes!  But seriously, sometimes it comes pretty close.  Take for example a burnt baby, who requires painful but necessary stretches and mobilisations of the burnt areas to prevent complications.  The baby will most definitely experience severe pain and suffering; it would definitely be done intentionally by the physio; but the ultimate reason or purpose is different.  Torture is never aimed in the best interests of the person being tortured.  Treating a burnt child, or any patient for that matter, requires that our overall aim is that the patient benefit.

2.  Is torture EFFECTIVE? If it doesn’t work then why do it? And more importantly, if torture is not right, is the second question even relevant?

After reading ZERO CONSCIENCE IN “ZERO DARK THIRTY”, and Interrogational Torture: Effective or Purely Sadistic?, I don’t think torture is effective.  There is no guarantee that it will work, in fact sometimes it can result in false information, which I’m sure would waste more time than it would save.  My thoughts on this subject were re-iterated in Torture and Tough Questions: Why Zero Dark Thirty Deserves to Win Best Picture:

The argument cannot be that we should not torture because it does not work. The argument must be that we should not torture because it is wrong.

Some more interesting reading on this and related topics: