Torture, Psychiatric Abuse, and Health Professionals Discussion Leader: Tito Ureta

Corillon – I’m asking Gregg Bloche to join us up here so we can have an even more informative discussion of the role of medical doctors and collusion in torture. Gregg is not only a legal expert, but he is also a medical expert.

Tito Ureta, Chilean Academy of Sciences I didn’t receive the message to be present at this session, acting as discussion leader, so I have to improvise. Doing that, I’m going to recall that in 1973, in my country of Chile, there was a coup d’etat which brought in a regime with an incredible record of abuse. I was in my laboratory doing experiments during that time. But, slowly, there came the realization that at least 20,000 – 40,000 people were tortured and 5,000 died as a result of that treatment. Also, we began to know that medical doctors were involved in the torture and deaths. Being myself a professor at the faculty of medicine, I began to do some investigations of my own to try to know who was in charge because they were most probably former students of mine, though I taught biochemistry, not torture. (Yes, biochemistry is a torture, I know.) [Laughter] I learned the names of a few who were involved in the torture of prisoners, and they were students in the second year of medicine. At that time, I was thinking What is in the minds of people who have received an education in medicine, have sworn the Hippocratic oath, and are participating in an activity in which a human being is being tortured? I was able to speak to only one of them. I asked him what he was doing with these people in charge of torture to get information. His answer was terrible: “I was there to protect the people who were being tortured. Otherwise, the interrogators could have been much worse than they were.” His perspective was that it was good to have doctors there to be sure the torture was mild.

That was during the regime, so I couldn’t talk much more to him. This made me understand that people find answers to ethical problems in those situations. They were doctors hired by the Army, and they would do whatever they must do.

I found that terrible, and it told me something about human nature. What one can do is, again, what was proposed a few minutes ago. Teach people in the ethics realm to behave as human beings. However, I noticed that the curricula of medical schools are so full that the possibility of having a year on bioethics is almost impossible. They are not teaching ethics. They are not teaching ethical values. They are dealing with the religions of their patients and that is it.

I don’t know if we can make a formal recommendation, but I think the only answer is to push ethical knowledge or ethics in the curriculum somehow. I don’t know how to do it.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement