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November 23, 2014

Human rights concerns make the teaching of ethics impossible

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Letter to Dr David Smith, Associate Professor of Health Care Ethics, Department of General Practice, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland

Dear David,
Thank you for your recent email about next year’s teaching on the MSc course in Healthcare Ethics and Law. I am afraid that I must join the ranks of those who are expressing their disapproval of the College’s links with the Bahraini regime.

I remember writing many years ago in the Irish Medical Times that the RCSI was getting into bed with very unpleasant company following the forging of initial links with Bahrain. Gallingly, at that time, the IMT (under ownership and editorship wholly different from the current management) disassociated itself from my article, asserting (wrongly) that Bahrain was a democratic country. I stood firmly by my position at that time and did not subscribe to the paper’s quasi-apology.

The Bahraini regime did briefly pull its socks up at the very beginning of the last decade and, among other apparently positive steps, released most political prisoners (I remarked on this positive development at the time in a further IMT article, conceding that some of my earlier criticisms no longer stood). However, the Emir and the ruling elite soon reverted to their old ways, notwithstanding occasional positive noises on human rights and sporadic releases of small numbers of political prisoners (who are invariably replaced by new batches of detainees).

Not only is the recent government orchestrated violence, harassment and repression reprehensible, it has further disquieting undertones of targeted oppression and suppression of Shi’ite Muslims. Foreign journalists and human rights observers are being expelled or being denied visas, reducing the chances of accurate reportage. As of last week, 14 arrested clinicians (including nine doctors) still languished in jail. All of the arrested doctors appear to still be facing charges relating to nothing more than the provision of medical care to protesters. Allegations of torture during detention have been made by the detained clinicians.

Recently, teachers have also been jailed for going on strike and peacefully protesting against the government.

On June 29, Reuters reported that Bahrain University now requires its students either to sign a loyalty pledge to the government or to give up their right to higher education. I hope that no such pledge is being compelled from RCSI-Medical University of Bahrain students.

For the College to maintain its links with the regime and to ostensibly play down the Bahraini state’s continuing and serious mistreatment of doctors during the ongoing popular dissent is most regrettable. The College’s public statements on the matter were, in my view, too little, too late, self-serving and inadequate.

I think therefore that it would be impossible for me to teach — of all things — ethics and law in the College at the present time and I must therefore decline the offer to contribute to next year’s MSc.

Dr Simon Mills, Barrister at Law, Law Library, Four Courts, Dublin 7.