Updates from the Committee on Health

Torture and Improper Treatment of Prisoners: Not a Job for Health Care Professionals

Opening Statement by
Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried
Public Forum, Tuesday, November 15, 2011
250 Broadway, New York, NY

Assembly bill A. 5891, which I have introduced, would prohibit New York State-licensed health care professionals from aiding or participating in torture or the improper treatment of prisoners. I applaud Senator Tom Duane for holding today’s forum. I believe it will help build the record and support for passing this bill in New York.

The bill has been endorsed by four New York medical school deans, three present and former CEOs of leading New York academic medical centers, five professors of medicine, two Nobel Prize winners, the White House physician to former President George H. W. Bush, and the former director of health services at the New York City jails on Rikers Island.

The statement by the medical leaders said “the bill offers support for physicians working in difficult environments to resist demands to participate in abuse. The bill is an important step in the process of restoring professional values and promoting accountability for violations and we are proud to support it.”

U.S. Justice Department and CIA reports document that the CIA’s so-called “enhanced interrogation” program relied heavily on physicians and other health care professionals to prevent a prisoner’s collapse or death from interfering with the progress of the torture and to advise on how to conduct “interrogation.” The torture program depended on the assistance of health care professionals, plain and simple.

No physician or other health professional should be allowed to use his or her education, training and professional status to cooperate in the torture or improper treatment of prisoners. The states, which license health care professionals, should bar them from participating in torture or improper treatment of prisoners. I believe there would be much less abuse of prisoners if even a few physicians said, “Sorry, sir; I could lose my license if I do that.”

The bill has also been endorsed by: Amer. College of Physicians – NYS Chapter, Amer. Friends Service Committee, Amer. Medical Student Assoc., Amer. Psychoanalytic Assoc., Catholic Migration Office, Center for Constitutional Rights, Committee of Interns and Residents, Fortune Society, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School, I Have A Dream Foundation – NY Metro Area, Metro NY Religious Campaign Against Torture, Natl. Assoc. of Social Workers – NYS Chapter, National Lawyers Guild - NYC Chapter, Natl. Physicians Alliance, NY Civil Liberties Union, NY Province of the Society of Jesus, NYS Defenders Justice Fund, NYS Society of Physician’s Assistants, NYS Psychological Assoc., NYS Nurses Assoc., NYS Occupational Therapy Assoc., NYS Nurse Practitioner Assoc., NYU Post-Doctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, Physicians for Human Rights, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition, and the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis & Psychology.