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June 24, 2003

Frank Burns Goes to Iraq

I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug.
I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.
If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.

--From the modern version of the Hippocratic Oath

While on duty in Iraq, Sgt. David Borell tried to get U.S. Army doctors to treat three injured Iraqi children, only to have them flatly refuse.

Maj. David Accetta, public affairs officer with the 3rd Corps Support Command, said the children's condition did not fall into a category that requires Army doctors to care for them. Only patients with conditions threatening life, limb or eyesight and not resulting from a chronic illness are considered for treatment.

“Our goal is for the Iraqis to use their own existing infrastructure and become self-sufficient, not dependent on U.S. forces for medical care,” Accetta said in an e-mail to AP.

Sorry, unacceptable. Adults are one thing, but if a child needs medical attention, you treat the child. You don't tell them "I can't treat your injuries because you need to use your own existing infrastructure," especially when we are supposedly trying to win over the population. Exactly how is refusing to treat this boy going to aid our mission in Iraq?

If you'd like to contact Major Accetta and explain this, or to ask for his version of the events covered in the story, his email address can be found here.

Update: Instapundit wrote about the same story a week or so ago.

I can see the sense of the general rule that Iraqis should treat Iraqis. What I object to is the refusal by the doctors to treat kids who are right there in from of them. It's callous, doesn't make any sense, and gives the impression that for the doctors winning over Iraqis is rather a low priority.

Posted by Bigwig at June 24, 2003 12:49 PM | TrackBack
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Most importantly, it is a violation of the Hippocratic oath.

Posted by: Mrs. du Toit at June 24, 2003 01:30 PM

Mainly in the interest of the Devil's advocate, what do we expect would happen if the US doctors treated every child that came in front of them, who was not suffering from a condition that threatened "life, limb, or sight"?

The natural thing I'd expect is for every child in Iraq within travel distance of a US doctor, with anything medically wrong with them, to be in front of a US doctor as soon as physically possible, resulting in a complete overloading of US medical personnel and logistics.

It may be callous in the immediate but non-callous in the long-term consequences, which are to cause the Iraqis to not be dependent on US medical personnel. Of course, the US should be providing whatever supplies it possibly can to Iraqi medical personnel, but that's another matter. As far as I know, Iraq has a reasonable number of adequately trained doctors, with more every week as expatriates return home to rebuild the country; with US (and EU, hint hint to France and Germany) supplies, I see no reason why they should not be able to treat the vast majority of the nation's injured (but not qualified under policy to get US doctors) adequately.

Evidently, if the pictured child was not treated, one assumes his injuries were not life threatening or crippling (or the stated policy is not being followed, which is another argument entirely).

Thus ends the devil's advocate portion of this post.

Personally, I'm withholding any further judgement of right or wrong until more specifics of the GENERAL situation are at hand, rather than one case in one place, before condemning the entire military medical establishment and the policy in general, which seems necessary, as above, to prevent total overloading of the infrastructure.

Doctors should probably have more discretion to treat Iraqis who are not in imminent danger of death (and I suspect many DO, in fact, do so, ignoring Policy)... but no matter how many they treat, someone will eventually be turned away, either as a necessary measure to prevent overloading, or BECAUSE of overloading if such measures aren't taken.

Most likely (not knowing the level of load at the medical facility in question - perhaps it was already overloaded or at 99% capacity? No data available) the kids in question should have been treated. That would be better PR and "heart and mind" winning... but, while it's "callous" to say so, it's still true that there are strict limits to what US doctors can and should do, given that demand for services almost certainly exceeds capacity.

I sympathise as much as anyone who's never been horribly burned can with these kids (even putting aside my "what the fuck did they think they were doing setting a bag of explosives on fire" question - kids all around the world do bone-stupid stuff all the time, and they shouldn't suffer for it if it can be helped), but I don't think it's wise to base policy decisions on the emotional appeal of injured children, no matter what the decision is.

Posted by: Sigivald at June 24, 2003 05:08 PM

Wow, that ended up being really long.

Posted by: Sigivald at June 24, 2003 05:11 PM

Wrong. We *should* do something to help the people who are right in front of us. To do otherwise is callous and inhumane. You are arguing like the Pharisee - too holy to treat the wounded man.

This Samaritan would help whom he could.

Also, are you really saying that the richest nation on earth can't afford to treat a few children in Iraq?

Get yourself some humanity man.

Posted by: Larry Lurex at June 25, 2003 06:44 AM

What's up with the picture of the kid with the napalm burn? (Well, it may just be petrol. Same thing, really). We saw a bunch of that in GW I, inflicted on the Iraqis when Saddam's brave commandos blew up a massive tank farm, in which thousands of Iraqi refugees had camped. We were treating burns for days.

Also, playing devil's advocate, from what I've seen on the news, many Iraqis are doing jack shit to help rebuild their country, even when they have the time and ability to do some work. A recent story about the war casualties, checking on the hospitals around Baghdad, reported that the hospitals are mostly empty. More info, please.

Posted by: omnibus bill at June 25, 2003 10:20 AM
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