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End persecution of Turkish doctors: AMA

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The AMA has added its voice to international condemnation of the Turkish Government over its decision to prosecute doctors who provided emergency care for demonstrators injured during anti-government protests last year.

At least people died and 8000 people were injured in clashes between protestors and security forces during the demonstrations, which began as a rally against a proposed park redevelopment but quickly turned into a full-blown protest against the rule of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Last month, two doctors were among more than 250 people put on trial for their role in the protests.

Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman reported that Dr Selcan Yüksel and Dr Erenç Yasemin Dokudağ were charged with “praising a criminal, insulting religious values and damaging a mosque”.

Dr Yüksel, of İstanbul Medical School’s Çapa Hospital, said she had to get off a minibus at Kabataş on the day of the incident because the roads had been blocked. When she saw injured people being taken to the Bezm-i Alem Valide Sultan Mosque, she ran to their assistance, acting on her “doctor’s reflexes,” according to the Today’s Zaman report.

Dr Yüksel told the court: “There were people under the influence of tear gas, people who had been hit by canisters, people who had broken limbs and people bleeding. I entered the mosque to help people as a doctor with training in treating trauma and general surgery. There were a lot of people. If we hadn’t helped them, many people would have died, or people with broken body parts could have lost limbs.”

Dr Dokudağ said it was “an extraordinary situation, like an earthquake or a flood. We are being accused of praising a criminal, insulting religious values and damaging a mosque. This can’t possibly have been our purpose. We acted on our professional reflexes. We were taught that it is a crime not to do what we did.”

The AMA National Conference unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Turkish Government to immediately drop legal action against the doctors.

The call came as international medical leaders – including World Medical Association (WMA) President, Dr Margaret Mungherera; British Medical Association President, Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran and Vice President of the Thailand Medical Association, Professor Teerachai Chantarojanasari – attended the AMA National Conference in Canberra to discuss global health issues.

The WMA, along with 10 international medical organisations, has raised concerns over the actions taken against the Turkish Medical Association and provisions contained in the new Turkish health law that criminalise emergency medical care and require routine reporting of all confidential patient information to state authorities.

Outgoing AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton said the Turkish government had an obligation to respect the sacred duty of physicians to care for those in need and to uphold people’s right to health care.

“The AMA agrees that Turkish judicial authorities should safeguard international principles of medical neutrality and medical ethics and ensure doctors are not sanctioned on the grounds of having complied with these principles,” Dr Hambleton said. “The AMA strongly encourages other medical organisations, both domestically and internationally, to publicly support the Turkish doctors and their right to adhere to the principles of medical ethics and medical neutrality.”

 “The AMA will be raising this matter with the Australian Government,” Dr Hambleton said.

The resolution passed by the AMA National Conference called for the AMA to:

·        strongly advocate for the rights of doctors in Turkey to provide medical care to the ill, injured, and unwell in any situation without fear of physical, professional, or legal sanctions from their government and ministries;

·        publicly condemn the new laws in Turkey, which are not compatible with a democratic or just civil society, and are both an infringement of citizens, and their doctors, civil liberties, and grossly unethical;

·        immediately join with, and add its support to, other like-minded medical groups who have already acted on this issue, and to encourage other medical groupings nationally and internationally to do so; and

·        immediately call for the Australian Government, as a friend and ally of Turkey, to advocate that the Turkish government rescind these laws and end the persecution of doctors carrying out their professional duty.

Adrian Rollins