Military physicians can experience ethical tensions and encounter important dilemmas when acting at the same time as healers, soldiers and humanitarians. In the literature, these are often presented as the result of pressures, real or perceived, from the military institution or role and obligation conflicts that can divert physicians from their primary duty towards their patients. In this article, I present the ethical experiences of 14 Canadian military physicians who participated in operational missions, particularly in Afghanistan. Interestingly, although some dilemmas discussed in the academic literature were raised by Canadian physicians, ethical tensions were less frequent and numerous than what might have been expected. Instead, what emerged were distinctions between the ethical experiences of physicians: generalists experienced more frequent and different ethical challenges than specialists, and these also varied by context, that is, garrison versus on deployment. The main dilemmas during deployment were similar to those encountered by humanitarian physicians and concerned inequalities in the provision of care between coalition soldiers and Afghans (soldiers and civilians), as well as the lack of resources. Surprisingly, participants were evenly divided with regards to how they perceived their professional identity: one group clearly prioritised the medical profession (ie, doctor first and foremost), while the other group identified themselves as military physicians, but without prioritising one profession over the other.
- military medical ethics
- medical ethics
- military physicians
- professional identity
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Contributors CR conceived and carried out the interviews in this study, performed the result analysis and interpretation and wrote the manuscript.
Funding The research for this article was supported by a scholarship from the Québec Fonds de recherche sur la Société et la culture (FRQ-SC), and a research grant to Bryn Williams-Jones, Lisa Schwartz and Matthew Hunt for the Ethics Office of Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).
Competing interests None declared.
Patient consent Not required.
Ethics approval Health Research Ethics Board of Université de Montréal and Social Science Research Review Board of National Defence (A larger study conducted by the Ethics in Military Medicine Research Group (EMMRG) also received ethics approval from the REBs at McMaster University and McGill University, the host intuitions of two of the team members).
Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
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