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The complicated life of a physician-soldier: Medical readiness training exercises & the problem of dual loyalties

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DOI: 10.4236/jbise.2013.610A1002    2,270 Downloads   3,567 Views   Citations

ABSTRACT

While physicians are generally understood as owing moral obligation to the health and well being of their individual patients, military health professionals can face ethical tensions between responsibilities to individual patients and responsibilities to the military mission. The conflicting obligations of the two roles held by the physician-soldier are often referred to as the problem of dual loyalties and have long been a topic of debate. This paper seeks to enrich the dualloyalties debate by examining the embedded case study of medical civilian assistance programs. These programs represent the use of medicine within the military for strategic goals. Thus, a physician is expected to meet his obligation to his role as a soldier while also practicing medicine. These programs involve obligations inherent in both roles of the physician-soldier and thusly they serve as excellent exemplars for the problem of dual loyalties at an institutional level. This paper focuses on Medical Readiness Training Exercises (MEDRETEs). These programs are short-term, generally taking place in low-income nations in order to accomplish strategic goals including training opportunities for military medical professionals that are not possible on the home front. This form of temporary program raises ethical concerns regarding the exploitation of vulnerable populations and the value of what is termed “parachute medicine”. The short-term nature of these interventions makes long-term treatment and follow-up impossible, begging the question as to whether this peak and trough approach to foreign civilian aid is of any use. Physicians are generally understood as having obligations towards the well being of the patient, which these programs do not necessarily prioritize. Rather, the programmatic intent is military, with political and strategic aims of furthering international relations, increasing US military global presence and providing austere and tropical training opportunities for military healthcare providers. This can be morally problematic for the physician-soldier.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Cite this paper

S.M.Eagan Chamberlin (2013) The complicated life of a physician-soldier: Medical readiness training exercises & the problem of dual loyalties. Journal of Biomedical Science and Engineering, 6, 8-18. doi: 10.4236/jbise.2013.610A1002.

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