Healthcare professionals (HCP) are regularly involved in military and humanitarian operations internationally. As in public health interventions, these missions highlight the tensions that arise when individual rights and the public good conflict. Principles of patient autonomy, rights and privacy, social issues such as triage and public health policy, and professional roles in terms of human rights protection may compete with military objectives. In the military context, HCP hold two professional roles (medical and military) each having it’s own history and code of ethics. The complexity of issues and the intense work environment of military missions raise special ethical tensions that are rarely examined.

Building on a study that examined ethical challenges facing humanitarian HCP, we extend the analysis to the experiences of HCP working in a military context. The Canadian military employs both civilians hired to provide medical care as well as military personnel who are nurses or doctors. The research project will thus compare the experiences of three groups of professionals: 1) military HCP; 2) civilian HCP who participated in a military mission; and 3) Canadian HCP who participated in humanitarian missions. By comparing the ethical dilemmas and conflicts faced by military, civilian (working for the military) and humanitarian HCP, we seek to better understand these ethical issues in the military context, so that we can then develop practical tools (an ethical decision-making framework for military HCP, and pre-departure training guide), that can sensitize and support HCP involved in international missions.

The research team includes Drs Bryn Williams-Jones and Lisa Schwartz as principal investigators and project directors, Dr Matthew Hunt as co-investigator, Dr. Sonya deLaat as research coordinator, and PhD student Ms Christiane Rochon and Masters student Dr Ali Okhowat.