Posted by: Witch Doctor | December 4, 2010

Medical Professionals and Torture


Dr Grumble has a post about a tramp. This poor man could be helped in an emergency with penicilllin but could not be helped to change his lifestyle. As a preamble to this post there is a description of the feeling of exhaustion that used to overcome the young Grumble when he was on call night and day.

“The wind was bitter. Even Grumble felt it in his bones as he hurried through the snow from one building to another. He felt utterly exhausted and prayed for at least a little sleep. He consoled himself with the thought that his life of constant day and night work was not quite as bad as the life of that poor tramp on the park bench.”

The Witch Doctor remembers this feeling well. She remembers working from Friday morning to Monday evening with hardly any sleep. She has been known to fall asleep in a vacant bed in the ward, in the bath, at traffic lights, and of course the wonderful, comfy seats in the cinemas that she sometimes frequented to fool herself and others she was capable of leading a normal life. However, she regarded cinemas as a kind of dormitory.

Looking back, here is no doubt in The Witch Doctor’s mind that as a young doctor she frequently suffered from sleep deprivation and sometimes had to work and make major decisions regarding patients in this state.

Was this a form of torture?

We were young then… physically and mentally very fit and we tended to take this form of torture professionalism in our stride. This was what professionalism was about after all, wasn’t it?

Did we all take it in our stride? She often wonders if sleep deprivation was a last straw that resulted in a young female doctor in her year committing suicide.

She will never know the answer to this.

She does know though, that the past experience of total, utter, physical exhaustion is The Medical Bond that binds many doctors of very diverse backgrounds and personalities who qualified during this era.

In these days the medical profession as a whole had “crept” into a situation where sleep deprivation was regarded as a normal part of training.

Some years later, The Witch Doctor attended a post-graduate course when there was an attempt to put forward the notion that education offered protection against cruel and unethical behaviour. The Witch Doctor did not agree with this, because she does not believe Creep is obliterated by education. Creep can be harmless but it can also result in cruel and unethical behaviour.

The Witch Doctor believes that when the circumstances are right all of The Humankind Creep. Sometimes the Creep is harmless enough but it can also be very dangerous.

It follows then, that The Witch Doctor considers that the “highly intelligent and educated” medical profession, when the conditions are right are susceptible to “Creep.”


Here are some extracts that tend to prove this point:

“Following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Bush administration initiated new human intelligence collection programs. To that end, it detained and questioned an unknown number of people suspected of having links to terrorist organizations.As part of these programs, the Bush administration redefined acts, such as waterboarding, forced nudity, sleep deprivation, temperature extremes, stress positions and prolonged isolation, that had previously been recognized as illegal, to be “safe, legal and effective” “enhanced” interrogation techniques (EITs).”

Why did these techniques become legal?

Because medical professionals were “used.”

And they were used because they allowed themselves to be “used.”

They did not say “no” to Bush.

Probably because they had succumbed to a bad attack of Creep.

They may well have justified their actions to themselves using a kind of strange but irrational logic that the educated, intelligent Humankind are prone to employ in order to comfort themselves that their actions are ethical in circumstances such as this.

“Bush administration lawyers at the Department of Justice’s (DoJ’s) Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) accomplished this redefinition by establishing legal thresholds for torture, which required medical monitoring of every application of “enhanced” interrogation. Medical personnel were ostensibly responsible for ensuring that the legal threshold for “severe physical and mental pain” was not crossed by interrogators, but their presence and complicity in intentionally harmful interrogation practices were not only apparently intended to enable the routine practice of torture, but also to serve as a potential legal defense against criminal liability for torture.”

The Guardian has been following this:

George Bush’s torture admission is a dismal moment for democracy

How the Bush administration tortured medical ethics


wordpress stats

redapple.jpg a red apple ……………………


The Witch Doctor – Link to a random page





© Dlundin |


  1. “She often wonders if sleep deprivation was a last straw that resulted in a young female doctor in her year committing suicide.”

    When Dr Grumble went to Oxbridge his mother was very keen on his finding a nice girl to marry. She was insistent that he should introduce himself to a young lady in one of the few ladies’ colleges who was the daughter of a friend and also a medical student. Dr Grumble had no intention of getting involved with this unknown woman chosen for his attention by his mother but, to keep the peace, he did his duty and introduced himself. That was almost the last he saw of the lady but his mother kept him informed of her progress in the marriage stakes. She married a doctor who was tragically killed. He fell asleep on the motorway after working four days and nights non-stop. He had been driving home to see his new young wife. She subsequently remarried a senior registrar in the Grumble specialty.

    Mrs Grumble has just reminded me that her predecessor in a busy post in the North of England also died falling asleep while driving after several days and nights of constant work.

    While we have very major problems these days with continuity of care and other issues related to shorter junior doctors’ hours we must never forget the lives that were ruined by the old methods of working.

    There is another lesson to this tale. Try and stay out of the love lives of your children. Overtly pushing them into a relationship is very unlikely to work and pulling them from a relationship is highly likely to be counter-productive.

    • The strange thing is that in spite of frequent exhaustion, my memories of that time are happy ones, probably because of the camaraderie that developed that helped keep us all going. The long spells on call were fraught with dangers probably for patients more than doctors. We did know our patients well though, and there was continuity of care when we weren’t asleep on our feet. Somewhere out there is a happy medium, but I doubt if we’ve quite found it yet.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: