A British Perspective on Military Healthcare Ethics and War – Past, Present and Future

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Papers on military medical ethics have increased over the past twenty years across the following topics: International Humanitarian Law and medical ethics; dual loyalty; access and entitlement to care; care for detained persons; ethical decision-making; biomedical research; teaching military medical ethics; military technology; and mental health. This paper considers whether these are new topics in the British academic discourse, reflecting a change in the character of military medical ethics, or topics that endure due to the fundamental nature of war. The website for BMJ Military Health (formerly the Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps) was searched using the terms ‘ethic’ and ‘Geneva Convention’ to detect papers on military medical ethics published before 2001. This was augmented by a search of the British Medical Journal and the Lancet and complemented by a review of Army Medical Services teaching manuals and Official Histories from the Second World War. The papers that were found were then reviewed against the topics listed above. Overall, most of these topics reflect enduring ethical issues within the nature of military healthcare, even if the character of the debate has evolved. Only the topic of ‘access and entitlement to care’ has substantially changed and it also became an important ethical issue during the COVID crisis. Whilst the term ‘military medical ethics’ is most commonly used, this paper also uses the term ‘military healthcare ethics’ to reflect that ethical practice in the military environment applies to all professional groups within the healthcare team, not only doctors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)244-261
Number of pages7
JournalTopics in the History of Medicine
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2023


  • Military medicine, Medical history, Medical ethics, Medical education and training, Medical law


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