Medical ethics in peacetime and wartime: the case for a better understanding

Health-care workers face ethical dilemmas in their decision-making in every clinical intervention they make. In times of armed conflict the decisions may be different, and the circumstances can combine to raise ethical tensions. This article looks at the tensions in peacetime and in times of armed conflict and examines the types of cases that doctors and other health-care workers will face. It also discusses the common ethical decision-making framework and the role of communication within both clinical care and ethical analysis.

Keywords: ethical dilemma, ethical analysis, decision making, consent, confidentiality, communication, trust.

About the author

Vivienne Nathanson
Director of Professional Activities at the British Medical Association

Vivienne Nathanson qualified in medicine at the University of London in 1978. She is Director of Professional Activities at the British Medical Association, and is responsible for public health, human rights, medical ethics, international affairs, medical education, and many other areas. She writes and lectures extensively on ethics, human rights, and public health, contributing chapters to books and e-learning resources on the same areas. She is currently an honorary Professor in the School for Health at the University of Durham. She was recently called as an expert witness to the public enquiry into the death in UK custody of Baha Mousa, and to the public enquiry into the use of contaminated blood products in Scotland (the Penrose Enquiry).