8 October 2014,
The sentencing hearing of apartheid chemical and biological weapons mastermind, Dr. Wouter Basson, is now set down for the 26-29 November. In 2013 Basson was found guilty by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) of unprofessional conduct for his role as a doctor in some of the crimes of the then South African Defence Force (SADF).
Today the General Assembly of the WMA begins in Durban, bringing together representatives from professional medical associations from all over the world. The South African Medical Association (SAMA) represents South Africa’s doctors at the General Assembly. Earlier this yearSAMA issued a statement indicating that it “expects nothing less than the harshest sanction from the HPCSA” for Basson’s unprofessional conduct.
In this context we have written to the President of SAMA, Professor Ames Dhai, asking SAMA to table the question of Dr. Wouter Basson’s participation in Chemical and Biological Warfare (CBW) activities at the Congress. Prof. Dhai has acknowledged our request and has committed to doing so.
We believe this is necessary for the following reasons:
1. Doctors’ participation in CBW activities is a matter of professional ethics and a deep concern for the medical profession around the world. We are increasingly seeing medical professionals being drawn into activities that compromise ethical standards on a range of issues (complicity in torture, denial of medical care on spurious grounds, participation in violations of human rights, etc). We have also seen the recent use of chemical weapons against civilian populations in conflict zones around the world. We believe, therefore, that it is appropriate that the Congress recognise the seriousness of the charges on which Dr Basson was found guilty and issue a public statement calling for his removal from the medical register.
2. The WMA General Assembly issued the Resolution on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in Fortaleza, Brazil in 2013, which calls for those who engage in using chemical weapons to be brought to justice, something completely flouted in the case of Dr Basson. Dr Basson, during argument in his disciplinary hearing, simply ignored a number of clear WMA and other internationally recognised professional ethical guidelines in defending his behaviour. We therefore think it incumbent on the WMA to make clear what it means to transgress its own codes. Furthermore we believe the WMA should make clear its strong condemnation of actions that ignore its guidelines and resolutions with impunity. Notably, Dr Basson has shown no acknowledgement that he believes he has done anything ethically wrong.
We also call on SAMA to urge the WMA to take the following actions:
· The WMA should urge its member National Medical Associations to:
o (a) issue statements on CBW participation by medical doctors on 26 November when the sentencing of Dr Basson is due to proceed;
o (b) circulate the HPCSA’s verdict on Dr Basson to National Medical Associations to use as an educational case study for medical professionals to highlight the threats to medical ethics posed by participation in CBW activities.
· The WMA should reaffirm its position on the non-participation of medical doctors in CBW and further develop work globally to combat medical participation in CBW activities. For example, we are concerned that there is little attention being paid to how genetic engineering technologies can be recruited for the purpose of development of biological weapons, and insufficient attention to the ethical issues at stake.
For comment or further information contact:
Prof Leslie London, 079 189 6368 or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Louis Reynolds, 082 378 2045 or via email: email@example.com
Ngqabutho Mpofu, 061 807 6443 or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: Over 30 civil society organisations including TAC, the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, SECTION27, Black Sash, the Legal Resources Centre, the Rural Doctors Association of Southern Africa and others have supported the call that Basson be struck off the register. Read a full analysis of Dr Basson here. In addition 210 senior health professionals have signed a Statement of Concern that the only appropriate sentence is that he be struck from the register.