Under customary international law, the First Geneva Convention and Additional Protocol I, medical personnel are protected against intentional attack. In § 1 of this paper, we survey these legal norms and situate them within the broader international humanitarian law framework. In § 2, we explore the historical and philosophical basis of medical immunity, both of which have been underexplored in the academic literature. In § 3, we analyse these norms as applied to an attack in Afghanistan (2015) by the United States; the United States was attempting to target a Taliban command-and-control centre but inadvertently destroyed a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital instead, killing 42 people. In § 4, we consider forfeiture of medical immunity and, more sceptically, whether supreme emergency could justify infringement of non-forfeited protected status.
- military medical ethics
- medical immunity
- international humanitarian law
- just war theory
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Funding Parts of this paper were written while Dr. Allhoff was a Fellow in the Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford University and as a Fulbright Specialist in the Faculty of Political Science at the University of Iceland; he thanks those institutions for their support. He also thanks the United States National Science Foundation, which has provided generous support under award #1317798.
Competing interests None declared.
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Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.
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