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Association News
APA Addresses Ethics Concerns In Detainee Interrogation
Psychiatric News
Volume 40 Number 21 page 4-4

Several months ago the media reported on charges that during interrogations of prisoners held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Iraq and Afghanistan, psychiatrists and psychologists participated in abusive practices.

At that time APA had no official position on the ethical and professional issues attendant to such participation. Recognizing the need to provide guidance to psychiatrists on this controversial issue, the APA Board of Trustees approved a position statement at its October meeting in San Diego.

The statement was developed by the Council on Psychiatry and Law and its Committee on Judicial Action in collaboration with the Committee on Ethics and Committee on Misuse and Abuse of Psychiatry. Input was also provided by APA members in the military.

Paul Appelbaum, M.D., chair of the Council on Psychiatry and Law and a former APA president, pointed out at the Board meeting that the U.S. Army was waiting for a statement from APA so it could add the Association's guidelines to a statement it is developing on this issue. It already cites the more permissive statement from the American Psychological Association (Psychiatric News, August 19).

The APA statement makes it clear that "psychiatrists should not participate in the interrogation of persons held in custody by military or civilian investigative or law-enforcement authorities, whether in the United States or elsewhere." It also indicates that psychiatrists should not provide information to those same authorities about the "consequences of specific techniques of interrogation" as they may be applied to a particular individual.

In addition, the statement reiterates APA's position that psychiatrists" should not participate in, or otherwise assist or facilitate, the commission of torture," and psychiatrists who learn of such activity are obligated to report it to someone "in a position to take corrective action."

Psychiatrists providing medical care to detainees, the statement points out, should put the well-being of the patient they are treating before requests to assist military or civilian authorities in interrogation-related activities. Psychiatrists should also refrain from disclosing information from detainees' medical records to anyone involved in interrogating those individuals.

The Assembly will review the statement at its November meeting; position statements require both Board and Assembly approval.

The Board also approved the distribution of $300,000 in grants to 22 APA district branches. The grants, which were made through APA's competitive-grant program, ranged from $5,000 to $30,000 and will be used for projects targeted at member recruitment, programs for members-in-training and early career psychiatrists, public affairs, linkages with primary care, access-to-care issues, and minority issues, among others. Grant requests were received from 47 of the 76 district branches and state associations and were evaluated by the Council on Member and DB/SA Relations.

On other issues the Board voted to

The Trustees also were told of two actions regarding amicus curiae briefs taken by the Board's Executive Committee.

In one, the committee voted "in principle" to have APA sign on to a brief in a Maryland case in which former APA President Harold Eist, M.D., is challenging the validity of a reprimand and fine issued by the state's Board of Physicians (see story below). The committee also approved a $5,000 contribution to the cost of Eist's litigation.

In the second case, the Executive Committee agreed "in principle" to have APA sign on to an amicus brief in an abortion-related case, Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, which is before the U.S. Supreme Court. The brief is being submitted by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and concerns parental notification laws when a minor wants to have an abortion and a young woman's health, but not life, is threatened by continuing the pregnancy.

A draft summary of all the Board actions taken at its October meeting will be posted soon in the Members' Corner area of APA's Web site,<www.psych.org>.

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