It doesn’t seem like much—hardly an offence. A national medical association calling attention to the public health consequences of armed conflict. Business as usual, surely? But not in Turkey. Not under Erdoğan. In January, the Turkish Medical Association warned of the health consequences of the Syrian incursion. Now all 11 members of its Council are under arrest.
In Turkey, a second war is underway. A political war of attrition. The Government is degrading civil society. Tyranny cannot countenance opposition. It detests political pluralism. Among its many evils is the demand for uniformity of thought. All thinking must be aligned to the monotonous mind of the potentate.
And when it comes to doctors, Erdoğan has previous form. Dr Serdar Kuni, a member of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey was convicted in 2017 for treating alleged members of Kurdish armed groups. Dr Sebnem Korur Fincanci was charged with disseminating “terrorist propaganda” after guest-editing a newspaper critical of the government. Laws have been passed criminalising medical treatment of protesters. Professional ethics, the moral independence of medicine—the requirement to treat solely on the basis of need—is being travestied.
Outside Turkey the medical profession is responding. The British Medical Association has written to Erdoğan, as have the Norwegians and Germans. The World Medical Association is engaged.
In my years working in human rights, medics have often been in the firing line. Medicine gestures to the independent moral value of human life and dignity. It follows that doctors can be a thorn in the side of power. And power responds with violence.
Medicine is under threat in Turkey. But Turkey is not—yet—a totalitarian state. It is vital that we support independent voices, that we help civil society endure.
Julian Sheather is ethics manager, BMA. The views he expresses in his opinion pieces are entirely his own.