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Honouring courageous colleagues, past and present

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At this year’s AMA National Conference, we had the unique opportunity to show our support for colleagues, both past and present, who demonstrate exceptional service as medical practitioners while working in areas of armed conflict.

One of the most moving moments from this year’s AMA National Conference came when the President’s Award was presented to the family of Dr Bernard Hazelden Quin.

Dr Quin was killed in Nauru in 1943, executed by Japanese troops along with four other Australians, in retaliation for the United States’ bombing of the island.

Dr Quin originally went to Nauru with his family, his wife and five young children, to work as an Australian Government Medical Officer to care for the Australian troops as well as the local Nauran population. Dr Quin left Nauru with his family in 1941 but returned by himself on request from the Australian Government to continue to provide medical care. Australian troops withdrew after the Japanese began bombing the island at the end of 1941; however, Dr Quin chose to stay and continue to care for the local Naurans.

Dr Quin’s professionalism and dedication to the Nauran people led him to make a truly courageous decision to stay, to not abandon them, and for that decision he paid with his life. 

In honouring Dr Quin with the President’s Award, the AMA paid tribute to those colleagues working in areas of armed conflict who have put the needs of their patients  above their own and have never been formally recognised for their sacrifice.

While the President’s Award was the opportunity to honour our colleagues from the past, the AMA continues its support for doctors working overseas today in areas of armed conflict.

National Conference delegates endorsed a resolution in support of members of the Turkish Medical Association who face legal action for providing emergency medical care to demonstrators at protests in Istanbul last year. We have highlighted this issue through the media, and will raise it with the Australian Government.   

The AMA has raised similar concerns in the past in relation to colleagues in Bahrain and Syria, we have publicly supported the Australian Red Cross and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) ‘Global Life & Death’ campaign, and we have formally adopted the adopted the World Medical Association’s Regulations in Times of Armed Conflict and Other Situations of Violence, Declaration of Seoul on Professional Autonomy and Clinical Independence, Declaration of Geneva, and the Declaration of Tokyo: Guidelines for Physicians Concerning Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in Relation to Detention and Imprisonment.

The AMA will continue to advocate for the rights of doctors working in areas of armed conflict to carry out their ethical duties to patients and others, to care for the sick and injured impartially, without fear of prosecution or punishment.

We will continue to campaign for governments to protect doctors and other health care workers so that they may undertake their professional duties in relative safety. Through our advocacy, we honour our colleagues, both past and present, who have placed themselves at great personal risk to care for others during conflicts throughout the world.