• Ethical dilemmas in medical humanitarian practice: cases for reflection from Médecins Sans Frontières.

      Sheather, J; Shah, T; British Medical Association, Ethics Department, BMA House, London, UK. (2011-03)
      Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an independent medical humanitarian organisation working in over 70 countries. It has provided medical assistance for over 35 years to populations vulnerable through conflict, disease and inadequate health systems. Medical ethics define the starting point of the relationship between medical staff and patients. The ethics of humanitarian interventions and of research in conflict settings are much debated. However, less is known about the ethical dilemmas faced by medical humanitarian staff in their daily work. Ethical dilemmas can be intensified in humanitarian contexts by insecure environments, lack of optimum care, language barriers, potentially heightened power discrepancies between care providers and patients, differing cultural values and perceptions of patients, communities and medical staff. Time constraints, stressful conditions and lack of familiarity with ethical frameworks can prevent reflection on these dilemmas, as can frustration that such reflection does not necessarily provide instant solutions. Lack of reflection, however, can be distressing for medical practitioners and can reduce the quality of care. Ethical reflection has a central role in MSF, and the organisation uses ethical frameworks to help with clinical and programmatic decisions as well as in deliberations over operational research. We illustrate and discuss some real ethical dilemmas facing MSF teams. Only by sharing and seeking guidance can MSF and similar actors make more thoughtful and appropriate decisions. Our aim in sharing these cases is to invite discussion and dialogue in the wider medical community working in crisis, conflict or with severe resource limitations.
    • 'He who helps the guilty, shares the crime'? INGOs, moral narcissism and complicity in wrongdoing

      Buth, P; de Gryse, B; Healy, S; Hoedt, V; Newell, T; Pintaldi, G; Del Valle, H; Sheather, JC; Wong, S (BMJ Publishing Group, 2018-03-17)
      Humanitarian organisations often work alongside those responsible for serious wrongdoing. In these circumstances, accusations of moral complicity are sometimes levelled at decision makers. These accusations can carry a strong if unfocused moral charge and are frequently the source of significant moral unease. In this paper, we explore the meaning and usefulness of complicity and its relation to moral accountability. We also examine the impact of concerns about complicity on the motivation of humanitarian staff and the risk that complicity may lead to a retreat into moral narcissism. Moral narcissism is the possibility that where humanitarian actors inadvertently become implicated in wrongdoing, they may focus more on their image as self-consciously good actors than on the interests of potential beneficiaries. Moral narcissism can be triggered where accusations of complicity are made and can slew decision making. We look at three interventions by Médecins Sans Frontières that gave rise to questions of complicity. We question its decision-guiding usefulness. Drawing on recent thought, we suggest that complicity can helpfully draw attention to the presence of moral conflict and to the way International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) can be drawn into unintentional wrongdoing. We acknowledge the moral challenge that complicity presents to humanitarian staff but argue that complicity does not help INGOs make tough decisions in morally compromising situations as to whether they should continue with an intervention or pull out.