Under the laws of armed conflict military medics are deemed non-combatants, and as such are subject to certain protections and limitations. The non-combatant status is defined in the famous Geneva Conventions, which form the basis of the international law of armed conflict. The protections afforded to medical personnel in armed conflict are a result of the need to protect and treat the sick and injured during times of hostility. This paper describes the history and legal development of the non-combatant status, and summarises the importance and implications of the contents of the Geneva Conventions that are relevant to medical personnel as non-combatants. We conclude that, despite scope for criticism of its relevance in contemporary operations, the non-combatant status for medical personnel highlights our commitment to alleviating suffering in armed conflict, and provides a vital legal basis to protect those who serve to treat the sick and injured. The ultimate beneficiaries of this protected status for medical personnel are our patients themselves. This paper also aims to stimulate debate and discussion of the importance of the non-status amongst military medical personnel.
- MEDICAL LAW
- MEDICAL ETHICS
- Received October 18, 2016.
- Revision received November 30, 2016.
- Accepted April 24, 2017.
- Published by the BMJ Publishing Group Limited. For permission to use (where not already granted under a licence) please go to http://www.bmj.com/company/products-services/rights-and-licensing/
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Contributors DW conducted research, prepared and redrafted the manuscript. CD offered guidance and advice on the content of the manuscript.
Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
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